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Exotic America

Posted by A Colin Treadwell on 11/1/2018
Posted in: Musings From Colin Treadwell
Tags: Travel, Tauck, Fall Foliage, Travel Tips, USA

I grew up in the middle of America far from any ocean or mountains, far, I thought, from anything that mattered. It seemed like everything that happened happened somewhere besides the Midwest. I wanted to travel to places where things were happening. In my fantasies I travelled the world, to all the exotic places I had learned of in books or movies.

When I was about seven my neighbour told me that his family was going on a fishing holiday to Minnesota. It sounded dull to me. I had been fishing plenty. It didn’t interest me.

I wanted to travel to the flashy big cities, the historical places in Europe, the wilderness of Africa, the mysterious lands of Asia, practically everywhere but where I was. One place I didn’t want to go was Minnesota.

Exotic AmericaAs I learned about the economics of life, I became aware that travel to those places required money, and in all likelihood I would never travel much beyond where I was. That was that. Those are the kinds of adjustments you have to make as your childhood fantasies collide with the harsh realities of the adult world.

Meanwhile there were some advantages to being settled in a small town where there are few distractions. I spent a lot of time practicing the piano and really enjoyed it. I got good enough so that I could make some money performing in bands.

I had no way to satisfy my hunger for travel, but I enjoyed playing music, and music transported me in its own way. So I settled into an acceptance of my fate, enjoyed the blessings I had and didn't think about abandoned dreams.

Then one day from out of the blue came one of those phone calls that changes the course of one’s life. It was from Canada, from a band leader I hadn’t heard of. He knew of me because a couple of his band mates had seen me play piano. He needed a piano player and was calling to see if I was interested.

It seemed like a dream come true. He was offering me a job for twice as much salary as I had ever made. I would be able to join his band touring Canada. It combined two of the things I loved most – music and travel. And I would be paid for it. I couldn’t believe my good luck.

Soon I was catching a bus to meet the band in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It was late September and heading north the changes in the autumn leaves became more pronounced by the mile. I watched the autumn unfold from my bus window in a single day.

At the bus station in Thunder Bay I found myself in a place unlike anything I had ever experienced. My eyes met a myriad of details I had never seen, creating a sense of being in a new world.

I met my new band mates and plunged into rehearsals. It was a show band designed to recreate the experience of a Las Vegas review for people who would probably never get to Vegas themselves, people all across the Midwest.

Yes, the Midwest. It turned out that the band was booked by an agency in Minneapolis, and the clubs it played were located in a radial pattern at various proximities from Minnesota.

Yes, Minnesota, the one place I had said I never wanted to go. Now it was being presented to me as part of a great gift package. It wasn’t Egypt or Paris, it was just a series of towns across the Midwest: Fargo, Cedar Rapids, Grand Forks, but it was travel. It was movement. It was seeing new things and places and I loved every minute of it.

It was a private joke with myself that fate had chosen to give me so much of what I wanted: music, travel and a salary, but it was travel to the one place I didn’t want to go.

We would play a week or two in one place and then pack up and head to the next date. We played six nights a week, so Saturday night we would play the gig, pack up the equipment and hit the road for the next town. We would drive through the night, and depending on how far the drive was, we might see dawn Sunday morning before we reached our destination.

In each town we had some time to explore so we got acquainted with many places across the countryside. We got to know some of the local people, made friends, and they would watch for us to return. I learned that each town had its own unique history, distinguishable from other towns based on how it was founded, what immigrant groups had populated it, what kinds of industries had fueled its growth, its geographical features and so forth.

I had fallen into the misconception that the country was like the tourist map with some important cities on the coasts and lots of empty space in the broad expanse between. I knew about certain tourism attractions, such as Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains and Mount Rushmore, but didn't know much about them. It was just my own ignorance that led me to think of the great middle of the country as one big undistinguished mass.

The more I rode from town to town watching the moving landscape the more I learned to love the great beauty and variety of it.

One morning as the sky was lightening after a few hours of driving in Iowa I took a wrong turn and suddenly found myself facing a lake. There was no sign identifying it. There were no tourists enjoying it. I had no idea if it even had a name. There was no one around but me, all alone encountering a heartbreakingly beautiful landscape.

The water had a jade green, glowing tinge in the morning light. The landscape blended the green with gold, highlighted by the first rays of sun peeking over the horizon, hitting the tops of cliffs that rose up in dramatic angles from the sides of the lake. The strangely sculptured formations of yellowish rock were fringed with graceful trees on the ridge above the lake. It was a great harmonious composition of features put together by no human being, and more beautiful than any painter could possibly portray on canvas.

"What is this place?" I said, to no one present. Where am I? This is one of the most beautiful sights any human being could ever have the privilege of seeing, and yet I am the only one here. I had no one to share my astonishment with. Why isn’t there a big sign here naming the place, and crowds of tourists gathering to take in this glorious sunrise, this miraculous spectacle?

Once my eyes were opened and my prejudices wiped away, I realized that in travelling the Midwest I was enjoying the miracle of one of the most beautiful places a person could experience. Peace and satisfaction settled over me. I realized that while my dreams to travel to China, the Pyramids and the African savannah may never be realized, I was blessed with the chance to experience this amazing part of the earth.

It was as if an angel whispered in my ear that there were people in China and Egypt, the places on my list of exotic destinations, who would give almost anything to see what I was seeing. I knew then with absolute certainty that America is just as exotic as all the places I had imagined travelling to. Exotic is just a point of view.

I realized that while my imagination may be limited in picturing what I have not seen, the world itself is not limited. It holds infinite variety and beauty. Just because I didn’t think there was anything worth seeing in the middle of the country didn’t mean that there wasn’t. It was just my own lack of understanding.

America the Beautiful indeed! I understand what inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write those lyrics. It may be just a metaphor, or maybe not. I believe it: God shed his grace on thee.

You don't have to travel far to see miracles if your eyes and your soul are open.

Travel on!

Your humble reporter

A. Colin Treadwell


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