Travels with Ben

I am back on my island.

I flew to Atlanta and stayed at my son’s house for a day before starting off on the long drive across the country.

Ben reading to Jameson

Ben reading to Jameson

We drove south from Georgia, through Alabama to the Florida panhandle, then west.  The south was wintry brown, poor and sad.  As we approached the Gulf of Mexico things began to green up.

We drove because Ben won’t fly. Because of that he hasn’t visited the island in 5 years. Now he is having something like a mid-life crisis.  He wants to change professions.  He is a chef but feels that the restaurant business is incompatible with a family life.  He has a wife whom he has loved since he was 14 and she was 12 and they have 2 beautiful children.  His wife, Katie, has just qualified as a nurse anesthetist.  This is Ben’s chance to change  direction, but he is fighting depression and is not sure what he wants to do in a new career.  We all thought a trip and some time to think would do him good.

Ben is my youngest.  I was 40 when he was born, and when he was 3 I drove him with his oldest sister (who was then 21) via almost same route from Florida, where I had finished my Ph. D. to California, where I had a post doctoral position at the University of Southern California.

On the present trip Ben didn’t let me drive at all.  He said he couldn’t stand to be in a car with someone else driving.  I worried that he would drive too fast for my old lady nerves, but it turned out that his driving was skillful and, though a little fast, was careful and safe.  I worried that the car would break down or that we would have a flat tire.  Those things did not happen.  But here’s the rub.  He said he couldn’t drive without music.  He absolutely required loud rock and roll music most of the time.

When the music was not playing he talked to me animatedly about his interests.  Ever since he was a small boy he has been fascinated with snakes and reptiles.  He told me what sort of reptile life could be found in each region we passed through.  Much of that I found interesting.  We talked about geology, and I was surprised by how much he knew about the earth’s history.

He commented on passing cars: he has become an auto enthusiast.  I was required to look at many sports cars, although they seemed a blur to me.  I thought one looked pretty much like another, save for color.  We talked a little about family, a little about cooking, a little about his future, but not as much as I had hoped.  Then we talked about snakes.  And as we passed from one landscape to another we talked again about snakes.

In Florida he took me on a detour along the gulf coast.  It was in the  region where the recent oil spill happened but I saw little evidence of oil.  These are favorite haunts of Ben’s.  We walked a board walk through a sand dune reserve where the indigenous flora in that delicate ecosystem is being preserved and protected.

Sand and shadows

Sand and shadows

The sand was soft yellow and white, with blue-green shrubs and rust red grasses.  The undulations of sand and silhouettes of bushes and trees were accented with the long shadows of late afternoon sun.

Condos on the dunes

Condos on the dunes

That night we stayed at the edge of Florida and ate dinner at a sushi place. Not bad.

The next day we went from the bayous of Mississippi and Louisiana to the dry, live oak studded hills of east Texas.



East Texas live oaks

East Texas live oaks

When we stopped for the night we grocery shopped and Ben cooked an excellent dinner of chicken thighs, rice and chick peas.  I think I have perfected easy cooking in almost any motel room.  All you need (which fits into one grocery size bag) is an electric frying pan, a spatula, measuring cups, small cutting board and knife plus a couple of dishes, bowls for salad and eating utensils.  Glasses are not really necessary unless you object to drinking wine out of the plastic cups the motel provides.  It was good to relax with the TV news, a bottle of wine and my own traveling chef.

Next day we passed through Austin; I had hoped to stop for a visit with Ruth Pennebaker of The Fabulous Geezersisters, but it was her moving day (poor thing) and she couldn’t fit it in.  We stopped for breakfast in Fredericksburg, which seemed to have a German theme, where I had a good breakfast of country ham and eggs.  The rest of the day was Texas all the way.  I remembered a ditty told to me years ago by a friend from Texas:

The sun has riz;
The sun has set.
And here I is
In Texas yet.

The next day we passed through southern New Mexico and into Arizona.  The landscape was desert, dry and rocky.  There was prickly pear and yucca and sage and tumbleweed.

Ben looking for snakes

Ben looking for snakes

The rocks were monumental.

Monumental rocks

Monumental rocks

We saw the new border fence, and we were stopped at a check point on the road where a well armed, uniformed guard looked us over and asked if we were citizens.  Ben said “Yup” and the guard said, “Have a good day,“ and waved us on.  It reminded me of crossing borders in Europe when I was a child before the second world war.  It had a chilling feeling.

In Tucson I had arranged to meet Darlene of Darlene’s Hodgepodge.  We stopped first at the Saguaro National Park.  There you drive an 8 mile circuit through the Sonoran Desert where you see a wonderland of desert plants, dominated by the huge saguaro cactus.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

Ben looked for snakes.

Later we sipped wine with Darlene, a charming, intelligent and articulate lady who lives independently and copes with serious deafness (though she converses easily with hearing aids and lip reading) and a damaged hip that limits mobility.  The three of us had dinner at a Mexican restaurant.  That visit was a highlight of the trip.  Ben was full of admiration for this brave woman.

The next day we drove on to San Diego.  My sister lives there, and I have spent many days there with my mother who lived in La Jolla until she was 97.

Ben found a hummingbird nest in my sisters yard

Ben found a hummingbird nest in my sisters yard

Ben and my sister’s husband David cooked dinner.  We had roast chicken with a chicken liver gravy that Ben has invented.  It was really good.  My sister’s son John, my dear nephew, was there.

My sister and I have different fathers.  She is 10 years younger than me, and sometimes there are tensions.  We are very different.  But I always find her to be a loveable person without guile or pretense.  She has been married to the same man for 47 years.  She has three children and has devoted her life to bringing them up.  I, on the other hand, have had 4 husbands and 5 kids, and have gone to school or worked most of my adult life.

Things seemed to be going well between us, though I am always cautious.  She unexpectedly started weeping and saying that I had offended her at some time in the past; she claimed I had said she was an underachiever.  (At this point Ben raised his hand and said in a jolly sort of way, “I’m an underachiever!” — then John said, “Well, who isn’t”)  I said I didn’t remember saying that but if I did all I meant was that she had more abilities than she had used.  She said darkly that she was sure I had meant something worse.  Then she told me to say I was proud of her for being so brave as to confess how I had hurt her after so many years.  She cried some more and said that I always acted as if I knew more than her.  I laughed and said, “Well, I do.”  But then I hugged her (though Ben said he could tell I didn’t want to).  We ended the visit affectionately and without more problems.

Ben and John -- cousins

Ben and John -- cousins

I had wanted to meet another blogger in San Diego, Mage of Postcards.  But I was running out of energy and time.  Ben and I left the next morning before the others were awake.  North of Los Angeles we decided to take route 1 up the coast for one last dawdle to look at scenery.

Ben was enchanted.  He said he felt as if he was driving through a painting.  There was the rugged coast, blue water, white sands, rocky cliffs, yellow and orange flowers.  There were sea otters and elephant seals and many birds.

Female elephant seal

Female elephant seal

Male elephant seal

Male elephant seal

Duck in the water

Duck in the water

Beach birds

Beach birds

There were mountains in the background.  We cooked shrimp and rice and beans that night in the motel.

The next day, the 7th on the road we both felt the urgency to rest and to reach the island.  I was missing Jerry, Ben was missing his wife and kids and knew that he wouldn’t get home to Georgia for a week or so more.  We just drove,  no lingering, for another day and a half.

The road home

The road home

We stopped for the night in Roseburg Oregon and had Chinese take-out for dinner.  Ben really wanted Chinese, and I didn’t, but it turned out to be some of the best Chinese I have had in many years.

We stopped at Barlene’s fish market on the way to the island and bought 3 dozen huge luscious oysters.  We had shrimp for Jerry who doesn’t eat oysters on the half shell.

It was a feast.



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24 Responses to Travels with Ben

  1. Rain says:

    that sounds like a great bonding time.

    On the Arizona border question, they have done that for many many years. It’s not new and has made some of our friends nervous especially if they appear at all ethnic, but it’s never been a problem

  2. Marja-Leena says:

    What a journey! Great way to bond and a wonderful way to see the country. You sure travel a lot!

  3. Jan says:

    I really envy your ability to take this long trip. A two hour trip to the mountains and back is more than I look forward to. I would like to see the scenery, but pictures satisfy my wanderlust.

  4. Duchess says:

    Great pics. I am so glad you did not get a flat tyre on the Continental Divide.

  5. Oh, my. There’s so much here I could comment on…how much I miss Texas, my own relationship with my youngest sister (also 10 years younger with a different father who thinks I’m a know-it-all and a snob…) Mostly, though, this: “I worried that he would drive too fast for my old lady nerves…”

    I know how old you are, but I don’t think of you as an “old lady.” You’re just Anne, my wise friend.

  6. dale says:

    Glad you’re home, safe and sound! It’s pretty amazing to drive clear across the US. Martha and I did it several times, when I was going to school back east. But I still can never hold all that bigness in my head 🙂

  7. Hattie says:

    You are such an inspiration. You never stop adventuring. Your son is a treasure, too. I’m glad you got to visit Darlene.
    And great pix, to boot!

  8. Dick says:

    Your appetite for travel, your acute observations and your energy are prodigious, Anne. We your readers are very fortunate that there’s enough of the energy left on your return for so detailed an account of where, what and who!

  9. I do not comment often. In awe of your traveling and adventures. So pleased you could visit Darlene.
    Enjoy your son – best wishes for all in his life.

  10. pauline says:

    What a treat to be taken along on the journey. Now I’m hungry…

    Sounds like Ben should make snakes his next career – perhaps with a zoo or a pet store?

  11. Darlene says:

    Thank you for your kind words, Anne. I’m not sure I am worthy, but I appreciate hearing nice things.

    It was so delightful meeting you and feeling a great kinship with you. Ben is charming.

    Thanks to Ben for admiring my courage. In reality, you just do what you have to do. I am not courageous, but my daughter would tell you I am stubborn and that sometimes passes for courage (like the time I climbed all the stairs in Hearst Castle because the elevator was broken). I think it takes courage to drive across the United States.

    Actually, I do not wear hearing aids. I have a cochlear implant on one side. I do not read lips either, but I watch the mouth of the person I am talking to as it sometimes helps. I’m sure it looks like I am lip reading.

    I wish your visit could have been longer because I enjoyed talking to you and Ben so very much. And I am enjoying your photo journey of your trip.

  12. Jameson says:

    HI Granny, I am glad you liked your trip – and I think Daddy liked it too! Thanks for posting a picture of me, and I don’t think you are an old lady either!I hope I see you again soon and I am ready for Daddy to come home. Alex says he is ready for Daddy to come home too – he is taking a long time.

    Jameson and Alex

  13. Ruth says:

    Beautiful nature, landscapes, and hummingbird nest!! I’ve never seen even a photo of one. Now I can picture them, thank you.

  14. Freda says:

    What wonderful memories to build up on a great trip. The photos are excellent. All that sunshine……. I think I’ve said before that health problems stop me travelling all that much, so it is lovely to share in your journey.

  15. Recalling the first encounter with your extraordinary blog and its enthusiasms–and difference from my own life–I found this one another remarkable piece. Your energy leaves me, as others, in plus encouraged to continue doing…thinking.

    Thanks for the window! I do hope we will meet, perhaps in March if we travel to Seattle again for spouse to take a weaving class.

  16. Friko says:

    A wonderful trip, the sort of thing I’d love to do.

    Mind you, both Ben and you wouldn’t be the easiest companions, would you. There is surely a lot of give and take involved?

  17. annie says:

    Wow what an amazing trip and what a kind mother to drive all that way, spending the time with your son. I hope he can find his answers.

  18. What a trip! Ben would love my backyard. Snakes AND hummingbird nests! : )

  19. wisewebwoman says:

    It is a pleasure and a privilege reading of your cross country adventure, I have done many myself but only in Canada and parts of the northern US. You have such a wonderful sense of place and people and relationships and bring me with you as you navigate all.
    And Ben will find his way if he is open to the nuances of life.

  20. Betty says:

    Thanks for letting me ride with you and your boy Anne. The “Hummingbird in the Nest” would make a lovely little painting. You are very kind, bloody ambitious, and even more flexible – you certainly don’t sound the least bit old! take care.

  21. Lucy says:

    Hey, there’s Jameson!

    Wonderful pictures and account of an impressive trip.

    (Remind me not to reproach my sister about how much cleverer than me she is, even though she is!)

  22. wonderful photos! So sorry I missed you all when you came through. The unpacking continues …

  23. Mage B says:

    Goodness, what a wearing trip. Yes, I too missed you. I hope ben finds a road he likes and you can fly next time. So very sorry about your sister.

  24. Lavenderbay says:

    In answer to your question, I think they’re Curlews. And the duck is a Surf Scoter.

    I’d love to go to Florida sometime, for the birdwatching. But a whole cross-country trip, that would be an adventure!

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