Archives for posts with tag: Writing

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Essential Words
by Joan Leotta

When the pandemic closed this county’s library buildings, our librarians still went to work to keep the internet “fires burning” so that those in our area without service could access signals from the parking lot—a literal beacon in Covid’s storm. Essential workers with no contact allowed. No checking out books permitted—at first.

My own bookshelf provided solace in a broad range of offerings for rereading—meetings with old friends that took me to Italy, to the West, to the past—on wings of words, trips not even Covid could cancel.

I began to read and borrow books online, in spite of eye difficulties with computer reading. At last, drive-up service came. We can now roll up to the door, call inside, and Kim or Christie or another librarian, pops out, books in hand. These angels with book carts know us, and often add items to our requests—things we might enjoy, things we may have found if we had browsed or talked with them.

The hallowed halls of my branch where shelves of books take the place of treasured frescoes are made holy by the ministrations of our librarians. The books themselves are secondary. Book clubs can continue by zoom, but the librarians are the beating heart of what makes the library my happy place. Books are important, but it’s the encouraging words (and actions) of our librarians that have been, are, and will be essential during and after the pandemic.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: This photo is of the two librarians (Kim WIlson, left, and Christi Iffergan) that I interact with most at the SW Branch of the Brunswick Library system here in Brunswick County, North Carolina.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This is more of an homage than prose poem or vignette—a cheer for the librarians who have kept up the sense of community here in rural Brunswick County with their unfailing attention to individuals—expressed as best they could (in emails, in calls) even when the library was closed, and as it opened, like a flowering bud, provided more and more of the aroma of kindness that is essential to all human life. Our librarians are great!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: When she is not playing with words on page or stage, Joan Leotta loves nothing more than sitting at table or walking the beach, laughing and talking with family. She spins poems, articles, essays, short stories, and performance pieces most often around her core interests—food, family, nature, travel, and strong women. Her poetry books include  Languid Lusciousness with Lemon (Finishing Line Press), Nature’s Gifts from Stanzaic Stylings (free online), and a mini-book from origami poems (free, but also printable). Another short collection will be released by Origami in 2020. Visit her at joanleotta.wordpress.com and on Facebook.

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Sea Stories
by Ruthie Marlenée

The old man of the sea stands dockside waiting for his son’s ship to come in. After two weeks guarding our coastline, part of Homeland Security, the USCG Cutter docks for fuel. The old Guard watches as the young Guard nails the landing. That’s my boy, the Captain. Even under his face covering, it’s clear the father’s pride swells higher than an ocean wave.

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I board with my husband, a USCG Officer, retired after 31 years, bringing chowder, fish and chips, careful to social distance at least one fathom apart on the ship’s fantail. Soon, young crew gather for a chance to hear one of the notorious salty sea stories from this white bearded ancient mariner. He shares about surfing in Samoa and trolling for ahi in the South Pacific. But too soon, it’s time to depart.

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We watch as the ship slips away. My husband wipes a tear, remembering his boy, remembering missing his family while being gone at sea. I know the tales he didn’t have time to share today. The ones he and his son will share someday over a cold beer about all the search and rescue missions, all the lives saved, the countless dangerous boardings and interceptions of panga boats full of drugs along our coastline. My husband will recall the trainings he did in India and Africa, the interdiction of enslaved migrant women and children arriving on rat-infested boats from communist-blocked countries and how he provided food, water, and medical attention.

In the end, they’ll talk about how proud they’ve been to serve in the United States Coast Guard. Always ready, Semper Paratus.

Join me in saluting this father and son and all the other Coasties who’ve served and continue to serve our country during these uncertain times. Thank you for keeping our borders safe and for protecting people from the sea and the sea from people.

PHOTOS: 1) United States Coast Guard Cutter coming in for fuel.  2) The author’s husband, Jeff Gunn, and two USCG crew members listening to his sea stories. 3) The author’s husband in his younger days before retiring after 31 years as a USCG Chief Warrant Officer.  Photos by the author. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ruthie Marlenée is a California native, isolating in Los Angeles with her husband. Her novel, Agave Blues, is due in 2021. Her second novel, Curse of the Ninth , nominated for a James Kirkwood Literary Award, published in February 2020, is available wherever books are sold. She earned a Writer’s Certificate “With Distinction” from UCLA. The author of several novels, she is currently working on the sequel to Curse of the Ninth. She is a ghostwriter, screenwriter, novelist. and a poet whose work can be found in a number of literary publications, including Silver Birch Press. Visit her at ruthiemarleneewriter.com and goodreads.com

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We were so inspired by our LANDMARKS Series (June 30-August 27, 2020) that we’ve decided to continue our world tour with a new travel poetry blog called POETRY and PLACES. The blog’s tagline is: “Sharing our travel adventures and celebrating our planet…through poetry.” Our logo is a bird atop a cage, ready to explore — the way many of us feel during the quarantine. Travel poems are a doorway to learn more about the world — geography, architecture, art, climate, nature, history, as well as our fellow humans, and much more.

We look forward to your visit at poetryandplaces.com. Learn how to submit your travel or site-related poetry here.

Logo image by Elena Ray, used by permission.

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To the classroom pencil amid Covid-19
by Paul Ruth

Somewhere there is a classroom with
a drawer in the teacher’s desk,
or a bin partially filled in front of the class,
or off to the side,
or by the door near the hand-crank pencil sharpener used
only when the electric one burns out,
that contains used pencils.

At the beginning of the year,
they might have been new.
Some were a carryover
from the year before.

Some might have been donated new,
but often they are donated by forgetfulness
on the desks, floors, and in the corners
of a lost thought.
The hexagon with an eraser tip
is the classic shape.
Many are round,
coated with a message or holiday theme.

Yet they all wait quietly
for brainstorming sessions,
math calculations (where you need to show your work), and
historical exposés on why all this matters.
In the right hands it can even be used for a representation in graphite.

If the pen is mightier than the sword
then the classroom pencil is the infantry,
the pawns in a game of chess.
It is the unsung hero given a medal for bravery.
The frontline worker only noticed now.

But it isn’t a fighter.
It is a peaceful rendition
hopefully waiting
for the classroom to fill
for minds to awaken
for hope to spill
over jumpstarting motivation,
passion,
enlightenment.

Has the classroom pencil seen its last days?
I think not!

It would be pulled through a fist
encasing it with a sanitary wipe
while a pandemic rages
and safety fades.
Although, the sticky pencils always seemed to get thrown back in the bin.

Still used to scribble notes
when despite its best efforts,
the computer just can’t quite keep up with our thoughts.

So they wait for the longest break
to end.
They wait to do what they have to do.
To forge ahead
to do what they did
once again
when we will begin again to live in a world
free from dread.

PHOTO: Student with pencils by Sashasan, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wanted to capture not just the person but the experience of the teaching profession during these times. The classroom pencil bin was always something I and others took for granted in the classroom. Now I understand how deeply Covid has impacted our lives, right down to the playful practicality of borrowing a pencil to do schoolwork. In writing this, I thought of all the teachers I have known and all the classrooms I have been in as a teacher and student.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Ruth is a high school English teacher and adjunct college instructor from the Metro Detroit area. He has written opinion articles on the state of education in Michigan and makes his aphorisms available through his Instagram account @envisionedaphorism. He also co-produces the Instagram account @limmieslimericks with his girlfriend with limericks from the perspective of his Old English Sheepdog named Limerick.

In Service to the People
by Mary Camarillo

After my grandfathers served in WWI, they took the Railway Post Office (RPO) exam. RPO clerks were considered postal service elites at the time. They were a close-knit group. That’s how my parents met—their fathers worked together.

The RPO manual required clerks to “possess more than ordinary intelligence, have a retentive memory and be sound in wind and limb.” My grandfathers knew all the rail junctions, the specific local delivery details and were able to ready a 50-pound mail pouch, stand in an open doorway just before the train passed the station at 70 miles per hour, grab the incoming pouch off a crane, and kick the outbound pouch off to the ground (and hopefully not underneath the train wheels).

My father rode with my grandfather on a few trips and decided he did not want to work for the post office. I wasn’t expecting to either, but when a friend took the exam, I tagged along. When I got hired, I planned to work a few months, save some money, and quit. I stayed for many reasons—five weeks’ vacation, 10 paid holidays, health benefits, the retirement package–but mostly because of the camaraderie of a close-knit group of people working towards a common goal.

Postal employees (my grandfathers, Charles Bukowski, John Prine, my husband, countless friends) miss Christmas celebrations, get bitten by dogs, and lose sleep working graveyard because they are committed to getting the mail out despite snow, rain, heat and now Covid-19, and a new postmaster general intent on cutting service.

The Postal Service mission is to “bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people.” The RPO handbook called this responsibility “a sacred duty.” I can think of nothing more sacred than binding our nation together in these fractured times.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The Postal Service is in my DNA. I had a long career with the service, and I find the recent changes in service standards alarming. There is a longer version of this essay on my website.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: These are photographs of my grandfathers, who were both Railway Post Office clerks. Their names are Hubert Adrian Parker (right) and McDonald Wilson Brice (left), both deceased.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Camarillo’s first novel will be published by She Writes Press in June of 2021. She is currently working on a novel told in linked stories. Her prose and poetry have appeared in publications such as The Sonoran Review, Lunch Ticket, and The Ear. She lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband who plays ukulele and their terrorist cat Riley who has his own Instagram account @marycamel13. Visit her at MaryCamarillo.com to read more of her work.

Author’s photo taken at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony.

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Behind the Iron Bars
by Vandita Dharni

Every morning I wake up to a familiar clattering sound. It’s the sanitation worker with the black mask. I wince—he always arrives a tad early to collect the garbage.

I flinch at the iron bars that distance me from the macrocosm as I watch him, and yet I don’t, vanishing into its folds. Then in a fleeting second, he reappears, offering biscuits to a black stray dog that eyes them hungrily—well, so do the ravens that perch on a tree above him every day. I know why he does this, for black is always lucky. The garbage van trundles towards the B-2 block where the road forks near the containment zone of our sector. The containment and non-containment zones are distinguished by yellow and black bags used for waste disposal, later transported to a compost yard in Sector 38. Pending electricity bills and crumpled clothes peer at me while I pour a cup of black coffee that has been brewing with my musings.

I often peer into the black bag he carries from a neighbour’s yard each day—the same vegetable peels, crunched paper balls, and household trash. I hear him instructing co-workers about safety guidelines and black bags that must be handpicked from collection bins and yellow bags which contain biomedical waste that needs to be segregated.

Our area has now reported twenty positive cases. The fences frown with boards restricting entry. He also collects trash from these locations. A week later, I notice him coughing incessantly. The iron bars of my heart bleed into ink that reads: “Two sanitation workers in the yellow bag area have tested positive.” My black coffee brews with thoughts whether black is still lucky or not.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: There has been an escalation of Covid-19 cases in the city of Chandigarh, with the toll rising to 1092 active cases, according to today’s statistics. Twenty-two cases in my sector have been reported so far, and no fresh cases have been detected for a few days. We adhere to the norms of social distancing and venture out only if it’s really necessary. During these challenging times, I have been confined to my home most of the time and do my work online. A lot of people who provide us with essential services have impacted me, and one such worker is Charanjeet. ¶ This particular sanitation worker has always been very positive and does his duty with a smile. He picks up refuse every day without fail, as do the other sanitation workers in Chandigarh. His family lives with him in Derrabassi, a tiny village on the outskirts of Chandigarh, and he has to support them financially. India is a progressive, yet poverty-stricken country, and Charanjeet is making both ends meet to give his family a respectable life. He had a bout of viral fever recently, but thankfully it was not Covid-19, and is he is back on his feet now, which is a relief for all of us who really salute front-line workers such as him.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Charanjeet’s photograph was clicked outside my gate by me and is used by permission.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Vandita Dharni is an acclaimed poet, scholar and, a gold medalist from the University of Allahabad, India. She has a Ph.D.  degree in American Literature from the same university. Her articles, poems, and stories have been published in many journals, including Criterion, Ruminations, GNOSIS, HellBound Publishing House, as well as International magazines such as Immagine, Poessia, Synchronised Chaos, Poleart Albani, Sipay, Fasihi, and Guido Gozzano. Her books include The Oyster of Love,  Rippling Overtures, and Quintessential Outpourings, and she is the proud recipient of the Poetic Galaxy Award 2018, the World Poetic Star Award 2019, and the Rabindranath Tagore Award 2020. Her work recently appeared in Our Poetry Archive.

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The Great Smoky Mountains
by Jennifer Su

I trusted that my cousin’s intuition was sharper than mine. I glanced at the path we emerged from, a mix of crushed leaves and twigs that tunneled back into a tangle of branches. Sunlight poured over the canopy, tingling the skin on my shoulders. It had been nearly three hours since we last stepped into broad daylight, and the sun had shifted from its sleepy state to a blazing, unsympathetic glow above us. The only ones that challenged its dominance in the sky were unsuspecting wisps of clouds and the smoky mist cast on mountaintops. My eyes panned away from the sweep of green, turning instead to the new terrain before me. The water lapped up against the pebbles on the shoreline. Its gentle ebb and flow either indicated a sanctuary for a quick prayer or a calm before the storm.

With a leap of faith—figuratively and literally—I jumped from the gravel to a light grey stone peeking out of the water. Once my left sneaker left the shore, my arms began making circles—forwards and backwards and forwards—like airplane wings tipping my balance just when I thought I would fall. My momentum continued thrusting my upper body forward, and desperate, I hobbled off to another slippery stone. My eyes darted from side to side, scrambling to find my next destination—the creases around my eyes wrinkled as I braced myself for the icy waves of the roaring river to submerge me—but there was only a splash. My sneakers were soaked instantly, but my knees were dry. Perhaps I overestimated my athletic feat: we were just five feet from the shore. Our laughter bounced from mountain to mountain, and I honestly didn’t mind if we could be heard from miles away.

PHOTO: The Great Smokey Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee .Photo by Dave Allen Photo, used by permission.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The Great Smoky Mountains are a mountain range rising along the Tennessee–North Carolina border in the southeastern United States. A subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, they are best known as the home of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which protects most of the range. The park was established in 1934, and, with over 11 million visits per year, it is the most visited national park in the United States.

PHOTO: Little Pigeon River, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. Photo by Darrell Young, used by permission.

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I remember this experience quite vividly during my trip to Tennessee in 2013. This account was inspired by a five to ten minute experience when my cousin and I ventured off to dip our hands in the nearby river. I wrote about the experience in my Smoky Mountains journal almost exactly seven years ago, and I’m glad to retell the moment again with some new life.

PHOTO: The author during her visit to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee (2013).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Su is a high school senior who writes short stories, prose pieces, and speeches. Both her written and artistic work has been featured in magazines and in local libraries. Jennifer enjoys creative writing as a means of documenting stories in her life. She finds inspiration everywhere, from a handwritten sign in a small shop to a summer trip across the continent. She is a member of several literary and Toastmasters groups and looks forward to refining her craft.

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UPDATE: We have decided to accept multiple submissions for our PRIME MOVERS Poetry & Prose Series. Authors can submit to three poems or stories (or poems and stories!). If you like to honor more than one person, feel free to do so by sending up to three pieces (submission details below).

OVERVIEW: While many of us are working at home and limiting our time outside, the world has to keep moving – and people on the front lines are making that happen. Let’s celebrate these heroes with our PRIME MOVERS Poetry & Prose Series – and pay tribute to our health care workers, child and elder care providers, teachers, postal workers, delivery staff, warehouse workers, trash collectors, food service workers, grocers, gas station staff, auto mechanics, bus drivers, train engineers, veterinarians, barbers, beauticians, and so many others who are putting themselves out there to maintain life as we know it.

PROMPT: Think about a front-line worker that you’ve interacted with or have observed doing his or her work. Tell us about your interactions or observations in a poem (any reasonable length) or prose piece (300 words or fewer — this word limit also applies to prose poems).  We prefer narrative work written from a personal perspective, and avoid material that attempts to speak for the world at large or comes across as didactic or preachy.

WHAT: Submissions can be original or previously published poems or prose. You retain all rights to your work and give Silver Birch Press permission to publish the piece on social media. We are a nonprofit blog and offer no monetary compensation to contributors — the main benefit to you is that we will publicize your work to our 10,000+ followers. If your piece was previously published, please tell us where/when so we can credit the original publisher.

WHEN: We’ll feature the poems and prose in the Silver Birch Press PRIME MOVERS Poetry and Prose Series on our blog starting in late August 2020. We’ll also feature the work on Twitter and Facebook.

SUBMISSION CHECKLIST

To help everyone understand our submission requirements, we’ve prepared the following checklist.

1. Send ONE MS Word document TITLED WITH YOUR LAST NAME (e.g. Smith.doc or Jones.docx).

2. In the same MS Word document, include your contact information (name, email address). Also list your home state or country.

3. In the same MS Word document, include a one-paragraph author’s bio, written in the third person. You are encouraged to include links to your books, websites, and social media accounts — we want to help promote you!

4. In the same MS Word document, include a note about your poem/prose or creative process written in the first person (this is optional — but encouraged).

5. If available, send a photo of yourself with the person you’re writing about — or a photo of the person you’re writing about — as a SEPARATE jpg attachment (not in the MS Word document). If you submit a photo of the worker, let him/her know it will be featured on a blog and ask if the person would like us to include his/her name. (If the person agrees, ask for an email address so we can inform him/her of the post.) We are making reporters out of all who submit for this series!  If possible, also send an additional author’s photo for your bio. Title the photos with your last name (e.g., Jones1.jpg, Jones2.jpg).

6. Email to SBPSUBMISSIONS@gmail.com — and put  “PRIME MOVERS” in the subject line.

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: Tuesday, September 15, 2020

PHOTO: U.S. Post Office worker, Bisbee, Arizona (April 2020) by Thomas Carlson, used by permission.

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Walls
by Shelly Blankman

Dedicated to the family of my grandmother, Regina Wallenstein, and the millions slaughtered by the Nazis while the world turned a blind eye.

I’ve walked these halls before,
seen the dimmed faces of those
born to die because they were Juden,
Jews.
Time-tattered images of people
frozen in time, matted on walls
like cheap paper.
Flammable.
Disposable
Eyes of the innocent open.
Eyes of the world shut.
Now I’m left wondering,
in a world once again
infested by
parasites of hate,
if this could ever happen
again.
We cannot forget
those who now live
only on walls.

Previously published in The Ekphrastic Review.

PHOTO: The Tower of Faces — photographs of Holocaust victims — at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (Photo by D.S. Dugan, used by permission.)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) is the United States’ official memorial to the Holocaust. On Nov. 1, 1978, U.S. President Jimmy Carter established the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, chaired by Elie Wiesel, a prominent author, activist, and Holocaust survivor. Its mandate was to investigate the creation and maintenance of a memorial to victims of the Holocaust and an appropriate annual commemoration to them. On September 27, 1979, the Commission recommended the establishment of a national Holocaust memorial museum in Washington, DC.  Nearly $190 million was raised from private sources for building design, artifact acquisition, and exhibition creation. In October 1988, President Ronald Reagan helped lay the cornerstone of the building, designed by architect James Ingo Freed. Dedication ceremonies on April 22, 1993 included speeches by U.S. President Bill Clinton, Israeli President Chaim Herzog, and Elie Wiesel. On April 26, 1993, the Museum opened to the general public. Its first visitor was the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.

PHOTO: The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC, with the Washington Monument visible on the right. Photo by Timothy Hursley for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When my family visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC a few years ago, I felt like I was walking in the shadow of my grandmother, whose  parents and siblings had been murdered by the Nazis. They were trapped in a world of hatred, where Jews suffered, were punished, and died for being Jewish. This haunts me even more now, as we see an escalation in this country of anti-Semitism, racism, and every other form of hatred that results in despair and death. I left the museum after about three hours. It has never left me.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shelly Blankman and her husband are empty nesters who live in Columbia, Maryland, with their three cat rescues and one dog. They have two sons— Richard, 36, of New York, and Joshua, 34, of San Antonio, Texas. Shelly’s first love has always been poetry, although her career has generally followed the path of public relations/ journalism. Her poetry has been published by First Literary Review, Verse-Virtual,  and The Ekphrastic Review among other publications. Recently, Richard and Joshua surprised her by publishing a book of her poetry, Pumpkinheadnow available on Amazon.

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The Observatory at Penobscot Narrows
by Susanna Baird

The only tower of its kind in the country. The tallest tower of its kind in the world.

I step into the elevator alone, am the most and least of everything as I rise until I stop, until I step towards thick glass to look over miles at sights the signs say I see that I can’t see through the drizzle.

With sunlight, the views might be cinematic: the river town, the granite foothills explosively disrupted to introduce the holiday road, the trees and the trees and the trees, the mountains I can’t find for the fog. The most favorite thing I can’t see is the restaurant the guard shows me used to be right down there, in that pressed dirt half circle that looks like a driveway. Can you see where it was?

There the camera people paused, ate lobster rolls for dinner, drank an extra bottle of beer, signed postcards with the waitress’s pen. But for time they are me, distinguished in this place for not being home, for driving through blasted rock, for stopping short of a bridge just shy of a town, hoping for ground clouds to scatter.

PHOTO: The Penobscot Narrows Bridge (Maine) by Demerzel21, used by permission.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Penobscot Narrows Bridge is a 2,120-foot cable-stayed bridge that carries US 1/SR 3 over the Penobscot River and connects Verona Island, Maine, to the town of Prospect. The bridge is home to the Penobscot Narrows Observatory, the first bridge observation tower in the United States and the tallest public bridge observatory in the world, with a tower 420 feet high.  Located on the Maine coast, 20 miles south of Bangor, Penobscot Narrows Observatory opened to the general public in May 2007. 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I’m afraid of heights, and often need to tackle height-related activities alone. When my family visited this impressive tower, on a bridge spanning Maine’s Penobscot River, I waited until my husband and daughter went up and came down, then fought fear as I rode alone in the elevator. The view up top was reduced due to a fog, but I still felt grateful for having made the trip, and for that particular headspace you enter when you are apart from “real” life, when you feel deeply impressed by “only” and “tallest” in a way you don’t when enmeshed in your everyday. The best part came when the guard told me about the restaurant that wasn’t there anymore. It was a small, lovely gift, the moment that most remains with me from that experience. This summer, I am missing being a tourist farther from home, but enjoying local day trips I never before took the time to make.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susanna Baird lives in the tourist town of Salem, Massachusetts, and is fascinated by tourist headspace. She serves as administrative editor of Talking Writing and as co-chair of the Authors Committee of the Salem Literary Festival, and leads a fiction and memoir writing group. She also helps run The Clothing Connection, a small nonprofit getting clothes to Salem kids who need them. When not writing or reading, she likes hiking with her dog, napping with her cat, and goofing off with her family. Find Susanna online at susannabaird.com (check out her occasional microblog, x100!) and on Twitter @susannabaird.