This time of year we tend to daydream about travel, and for many of us, that also means inspiration. Of course, travel can also be in one’s own mind’s eye, like a dream, catapulting us far away without once changing our geography. What does this theme make YOU think of?
That day I went on a little mind trip
That day, remember that?
Well, it was many days.
But that day, I brought along Back,
J.S., not C.P.E. and Wright. And I thought that should do it,
but they couldn’t quite hold me.
They couldn’t quite hold me.
But then the sun set.
And as if that weren’t enough,
the wind came into play.
Yes, the wind, and not just the wind
but the stars. There were some stars,
SHOOTING ACROSS THE SKY.
I mean, what are you going to do?
You start thinking being alive is really something, you know?
The wind, and the sky, and your own breath.
Travel and Inspiration—and Books
Books inspire me when I travel. I usually take along a novel set in the place to which I am traveling. While in Rome this past February, I read Maria Doria Russell’s A Thread of Grace, about Italy during WWII when peasants to the north sheltered Jews running before the German invaders. Standing on the rooftop of a building called Maria Bambino, across from St. Peter’s square while Mary and two other survivors were interviewed by CBS after the Pope’s address at the end of his summit on clergy sexual abuse, I looked northeast to the snow-capped mountains and imagined those terrified Jewish refugees, protected in one small village after another in coordination with and often at the request of Roman Catholic parish priests. On the same trip I read Beneath the Scarlett Sky, by Mark T. Sullivan, the true story of a man who became a spy for the Allies during WWII. As a teenager he spent time in a monastery in the north of Italy, sent there by parents who wanted to protect him. A Catholic brother sheltered Jewish asylum seekers in the monastery, and that teenager often ventured out in blinding snowstorms to ski them through the Alps to freedom in Switzerland.
What I’ve been pondering, since returning from Rome, is the gulf between the compassion of Catholic priests and brothers when faced with a grand enemy, Hitler, and everything for which he stood and the indifference of perhaps those very same priests and brothers when It comes to owning up to their own participation in the church’s systemic abuse and cover-up of abuse of the most vulnerable within their flocks. That it’s been seventy years since the particulars of these written stories and the one I witnessed this February in Rome is immaterial; clergy sexual abuse of kids was going on even in the 40s, and it continues to this day.
Yes, books inspire me when I travel. Travel inspires me too—in this case, to wonder at both the heroism and also the villainy of the institutional Roman Catholic Church.
Mary Ann Woodruff
The Inspiration and Joy of Travel
Traveling had never even crossed my mind! As a college sophomore I was focused on classes and studying during the week and weekends partying off campus. But my college roommate, Carolyn, had other ideas, and an inspiration!
“Let’s apply for our Junior Year Abroad at St. Andrews University in Scotland,” she declared in December of that year. They take two Mt. Holyoke students every year. We could both go and, besides, they speak English in Scotland!” And, so, my original inspiration to travel came not from within, but from my best friend. Once we were aboard the student ship, “Arosa Kulm”, the following September, however, I was all in. The travel bug had bitten.
What a time we had! On our way north through England to Scotland we visited Pembroke, Wales, my mother’s birthplace; bicycled around Lake Windermere in the lake District and gorged on blackberries in Wordsworth’s hometown. On our month-long holidays at Christmas and Easter we borrowed backpacks, maps and other essential gear from our British friends and hitchhiked through France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Our drivers bought us meals and took us home to meet their families. We saw Rome clinging to handsome Italian university students on the backs of their Vespas, shivered in the catacombs and drank cheap wine and sang along with the comrades at a communist bar.
Later in life my husband, Caddy, and I spent summer vacations camping with our girls. After they married and left home we toured the West Coast in a 24-foot trailer. Every time we pulled our camper out of the driveway and onto the highway, we looked at each other and grinned. Our dog, Buster, sat in the back-seat grinning too, from one floppy ear to the other.
The inspiration to travel and the joy received from our traveling adventures has never gotten old. As the years have gone by our camping is resigned to memory and our traveling reduced to day trips. But we still grin when we leave the driveway and merge onto the interstate.