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People, Places, Stuff


The spiritually-inclined often seek out mountaintops, standing rocks, sacred springs and other places that seem to have cosmic resonance. To that list should be added confluences, I believe, because to stand at the meeting place of two great rivers is to feel, if not metaphysical vibration, then geography at your feet, those features we pass by unheeding everyday that describe the singular face of this glorious planet Earth.
Such thoughts came to mind recently when I visited Shikellamy State Park at the southern tip of Packer’s Island in central Pennsylvania. The north and west branches of the Susquehanna come together there, about halfway along the main river’s course from around Cooperstown, New York, to its delta on Chesapeake Bay: some 464 miles, making it the longest river in the U.S. non-navigable to commercial boats.
Historical plaques nearby show the site a Native American village that was home to Shikellamy, an Iroquois Confederacy leader, and the high water mark during the big Susquehanna flood of 1972. You can walk right out to a little plaza at the confluence where the sound of traffic on two bridges connecting Packer’s Island to the towns of Northumberland and Sunbury dies down to a dull hum and ducks paddle in the muddy shallows, all ignorant of the site’s geographical significance.
Of course, this started me thinking about other great confluences I’ve seen at close hand: the narrow Chroy Changvar peninsula east of downtown Phnom Penh where the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers join; Belgrade’s old citadel in Kalemegdan Park overlooking the intertwining Danube and Sava; and best of all, perhaps, the meeting of the Green and Colorado, deeply-inscribed in the stark desert plateau of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. My brother and I once pitched tents at Willow Flat in the park‘s Island in the Sky sector overlooking the Green’s last lap before annihilation in the mighty Colorado. Read More 
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Never mind the “The Titanic” in 3D. Check out this disaster footage: disaster footage.

Its star, if you failed to notice, isn’t a ship but a bridge. A female bridge, Galloping Gertie, named for the way she bucked and bolted in a high wind.

The long-awaited first bridge to cross Tacoma Narrows, separating the east and west side of Puget Sound, was a marvel in steel cables when she opened to traffic on July 1, 1940. Designed by Leon Moisseiff, a consulting engineer for the Golden Gate, she was the third longest suspension bridge in the world at the time. And boy, oh boy, did Tacoma celebrate her arrival with bands, speeches and rooster races staged by Charles E. Shaw who’d developed the curious sport in the fishing village of Gig Harbor.

Now two bridges cross the Narrows between the city of Tacoma and the Olympic Peninsula, one built in 1950 (known as Sturdy Gertie) and the other in 2007 (with a much-resented eastbound toll). It’s a blissful drive over the strait between forested Fox Island and historic Point Defiance, but I couldn’t go that way a few months ago without thinking of Gertie.

Soon after she opened people started to notice that the bridge wasn’t exactly stable; indeed, she twisted like scotch tape on windy days--the oscillation effect, produced by a then innovative design that didn’t use trusses, thereby making her lighter and more pliable than previous suspension bridges. Cables were added in an attempt to settle Gertie down, but no one thought she was dangerous. In fact, folks took to driving across just for the thrill.

But when 42 mph winds kicked up four months later on November 7, Gertie began oscillating and undulating so wildly that the bridge authority shut her down. From the banks people watched girders give way, suspender cables snap, the road bed heave and then collapse in pieces into the sound, followed by the two 420-foot towers that held her central span. The only fatality was a dog stranded in an abandoned vehicle. Miraculously, a local camera shop owner got the whole thing on 16 mm film, preserved by the Library of Congress and more recently YouTube.

There’s nothing left to see of Gertie when you cross the Narrows today; her rubble now rests at the bottom of Puget Sound. But the Harbor History Museum in Gig Harbor a few miles beyond the west side of the span displays pieces of her debris, not to mention photos of Clarence E. Shaw’s racing roosters.  Read More 
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Join Me at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.

Love Of Place
Travel Writing Appreciation And Practice

Susan Spano

Place: Politics and Prose
Dates: Three Mondays: October 15, 22 and 29, 1-3p.m.
Price: $75 ($65 members)


Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, Robert Louis Stevenson
Travels with Myself and Another, Martha Gellhorn
On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal, Mary Taylor Simeti

This workshop introduces participants to the art and craft of travel writing, well known to readers of newspaper travel sections. But what draws writers to this genre? Call it love of place, an important ingredient in fiction, poetry and essays, from William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, to Bruce Chatwin’s Patagonia.
We will begin in the first session by considering the practical aspects of travel writing: suiting ideas to publications, story pitches, trip planning, journaling and note-taking, on-the-road observation, writing and rewriting. We’ll also spend time on the thorny subject of ethics: traveling anonymously and the do's and don'ts of trip financing.
To prepare for the second session participants will be asked to read three books that exemplify great travel writing: Robert Louis Stevenson’s heart-felt Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes; war correspondent Martha Gellhorn’s sharply-observed Travels with Myself and Another; and the Mary Taylor Simeti’s paean to Sicily, On Persephone’s Island. Our aim will be to notice critical factors like choice of material, authorial voice, narrative and underlying theme.
Participants will have the opportunity to submit samples of their own travel-inspired stories, fiction, memoirs or essays which the group will discuss in the workshop's third session.
Reading and writing by participants is not required, but strongly encouraged as a stimulus to discussion and an opportunity for feed-back.


Author, columnist, and traveler Susan Spano has journeyed the world reporting on culture, nature and items of human curiosity. She launched the still-running “Frugal Traveler” column for the New York Times, then joined the staff of The Los Angeles Times which sent her to the City of Light from 2003 to 2006 to start the popular travel section blog “Postcards from Paris.” She spent 6 months in Beijing studying Mandarin and researching stories in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics before moving to Rome---her favorite foreign posting---where she wrote on everything Italian, from Caravaggio to mozzarella. Her work has also appeared in the Financial Times, Chicago Tribune, Smithsonian, National Geographic Traveler and Redbook.
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Taylor Camp Update

Should you happen to be on Kauai--lucky you--between September 1 and October 28, check out Taylor Camp: 1969-1977, an exhibition of photography by John Wehrheim at Art Café Hemmingway in Kapaa.

It tells the story of an encampment of flower children on the island's north shore that was part Robinson Crusoe paradise, part hippie commune and pot farm. For more on Taylor Camp, see Flower Children on the North Shore of Kauai, Smithsonian, July 9, 2012.

Here's how the photographer describes the show:
The exhibition design is unique. Each frame incorporates a silver print mounted on archival stock above a long caption/quote from the Taylor Camp book, hand written in beautiful calligraphy, informing and interpreting each photo. Every piece tells a story and becomes a direct link to the past and creates the feeling of "being there" within a single frame.

Then head up to the site of the old camp at Ha’ena State Park, a gorgeous beach in the shadow of the Na Pali Cliffs on the island's impregnable west coast. Those flower children really knew how to choose a place to squat. Read More 
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