Posts Tagged ‘surprises’


Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Polifax in the 1999 TV movie The Unexpected Mrs. Polifax. Other actors have also played this character, but Angela is how I always pictured the character when I read Dorothy Gilman’s books.Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us. – Boris Pasternak

The Write Words

One of my favorite authors back when I was trying to figure out life, which of course I still am, was Dorothy Gilman and her Mrs. Polifax series. For those of you who haven’t read any of the books, Mrs. Emily Polifax is a white-haired widow who adored hats, had a brown belt in karate and worked for the CIA as a spy.

Life”s surprises are a gift, like a butterfly that unexpectedly appears. — Art by Pat Besn.

What I liked about Gilman’s heroine was that no matter how difficult a situation she found herself in, she was always hopeful she would find a surprising way out of her difficulties.

Reading back journals, I discovered I often used the character’s dialog as quotes. The gist of the one I remember best is that life is not like setting a table where everything can be placed exactly like you want. I thought about this on reading this month’s prompt from my online writing circle, which is:  Write about a journey you’ve been on where you got sidetracked and ended up with a much more fulfilling outcome.

My second thought was: just my whole life.  

            Dreams I had of how my life would go – to quote one of my grandmother’s favorite sayings – went to hell in a handbasket. Other dreams turned out better than I could ever have imagined, even though they bumped forward on a rocky path with many detours along the way.

Looking back, I’m glad life didn’t go the way I had planned. It wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.

Bean Pat:  https://lithub.com/alice-walker-on-writing-dancing-and-bursting-into-song/  I  loved this.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  Currently, she is writing a book, tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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The Great Dismal Swamp. -- photo by Pat Bean

The Great Dismal Swamp. — photo by Pat Bean

“Everything we do every thought we’ve ever had, is produced by the human brain. But exactly how it operates remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries, and it seems the more we probe its secrets, the more surprises we find.” Neil deGrasse Tyson

It was a Surprise

            I have two traveling styles. The first is a mile-by-mile research of all the sights and attractions I will be seeing from Point A to Point B. I highly recommend it as it gives meaning to the seeing. The second is simply to choose a route to get me from Point A to Point B and be surprised along the way. I highly recommend this method of road trips, too.

Sailboats on the Great Dismal Swamp behind the North Carolina Welcome Center off Highway 17.  Photo by Pat Bean

Sailboats on the Great Dismal Swamp behind the North Carolina Welcome Center off Highway 17. Photo by Pat Bean

It’s not that one method is better, simply different, as are so many of life’s choices.

The Great Dismal Swamp was one of those surprises for me. I didn’t know it even existed before I came across it a few years back,. I was traveling westward from Virginia Beach, zig-zagging on back roads until I reached Highway 17.

It was a late October morning, sunny, but cool, when I came across this great marsh with its waterlogged trees, poisonous snakes and dark waters that hid what lurked below. Of course I had to explore it a bit. Just its name, Great Dismal Swamp, captured both my curiosity and my imagination.

My stopping place was a welcome center in North Carolina just across the border from Virginia. It had a picnic area for both motorists and boaters, with a parking lot entrance for vehicles off Highway 17 and a dock at the rear of the building to accommodate water traffic on the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.  Inside, I found a mountain of information on the swamp, which  until that day I hadn’t known existed.

The short hiking trail wasn't dismal at all. -- Photo by Pat Bean

The short hiking trail wasn’t dismal at all. — Photo by Pat Bean

. The creation of the canal through it was the idea of George Washington and his investor colleagues. They saw it as a means to accommodate trade between Virginia and an isolated region of North Carolina. Today, the 22-mile long canal provides boaters a shortcut between the Elizabeth River and Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and the Pasquotank River in North Carolina. In Washington’s time, it was the only easy passage through the mucky swamp.

Six large sailboats, quite nifty compared to the small 21-foot sloop I used to sail on the Great Salt Lake, were double-parked at the welcome center’s dock. After ogling the sailboats with an experienced eye, and exploring the visitor center and its manicured grounds, I found a path leading off into the forest. A sign identified it as “The Dismal Swamp Nature Trail,” with an added cautionary note to “Beware of Snakes.”

Actually it was a quite civilized trail, with markers identifying black cherry and mulberry trees, a cheerful squirrel dashing among the foliage, and a tufted titmouse whistling me along its fallen leaf carpet. The narrow path led along the canal for a while, then circled around into a more forested area before dumping me out, far too quickly, near the parking lot.

On the far side of the canal, the landscape was fiercer. There were no paths, only a mass of tangled vines and nature debris hiding and sheltering its wild occupants, like black bears and bobcats. The swamp also plays host to over 200 species of birds. Its tangled webs of vines, unsure footing and dangerous wildlife keep most people out, which is why it became a refuge for America’s former slaves.

The runaway slaves passed through it on their hopeful way to freedom, while others chose to live in the swamp as an alternative to slavery. Harriett Beecher Stow, whose book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” sympathetically described the sad plight of slaves, wrote a second book, “Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp,” whose title character was an escaped, angry slave who lived in it.

Back in my RV, still pondering facts I had learned, I continued following Highway 17 south until it intersected with Highway 158, a well-maintained but little traveled road that took me through the middle of the swamp. The 38-mile drive through the quagmire took me from the swamp’s eastern edge to its western edge — and because I stopped often to take photos, two hours to cover.

I rank that day’s Road Trip Surprise a solid 11, on a 1 to 10 ranking.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Determination http://tinyurl.com/jj5zsg4 Some great quotes.


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“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.” – Ashley Montagu

A piece of the Great Wall of China in Walla Walla, Washington. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

Call me weird if you like, but I think the ladybug I find on the rose is even more beautiful than the rose itself. And it’s not just because I know that ladybugs eat the aphids that eat the roses. It’s mostly because coming across a ladybug is usually a surprise.

I like surprises. Seeing things I don’t expect to see. It’s actually what I enjoy best about travel.

Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy seeing the magnificent sights travel is all about. One wouldn’t want to go to Yellowstone and not see Old Faithful, or to New York and not see Niagara Falls.

But the little unexpected things along the way are what put the magic in any journey.

One of the more surprising surprises I got in September took place in Walla Walla, Washington.

I went there with my friend, Sherry, who lives in Milton-Freewater, Oregon. As we drove the eight miles from her home to the larger town to do some shopping, we got to talking about the places we wished we could afford to visit in the near future.

“Ayers Rock in Australia and the Great Wall of China top my list,” I said.

“Oh! Would like to touch a piece of the Great Wall,” she asked?

She then took me to the Walla Walla University, from which she had graduated.

The UFO above an eye exam sign on a Wal-Mart in Roswell, New Mexico, was a jolly fun surprise. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Hidden in a bushy alcove, on the brick wall of a campus building, was indeed a piece of the Great Wall. It had been incorporated into the building as one of the bricks. Above it was a plaque that read: “A piece of the China Wall, donated in 1941 by John L. Christian, Class of 1936, missionary to Burma.”

The touch of the rough, gray rock felt magical, and my fingers tingled.

My brain, however, was thinking that such casual taking of a piece of history today could land one in serious trouble. Of course things were different back then, when everyone was expected to bring home “real” souvenirs, like a piece of lava from Craters of the Moon or a rock-hard log from the Petrified Forest.

Back in the 1940s,  the “Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints” motto hadn’t yet become conservation’s cry.  While I’m glad it’s now the standard, I’m also glad I got to actually touch a piece of China’s history.

It was a magnificent surprise to add to my travel memories.

Perhaps one day I’ll get to touch the actual wall. Of course, given my current economic reality, that would indeed be a surprise.

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Surprise discover of a Marlin Perkins statue in a small Carthage, Missouri, park. -- Photo by Pat Bean


Travels With Maggie

“If we are strong, and have faith in life and its richness of surprises, and hold the rudder steadily in our hands. I am sure we will sail into quiet and pleasant waters for our old age.” — Freya Stark   

Marlin Perkins

 When you’re on the road, you know you’re going to visit the Mount Rushmores and the Niagara Falls. Perhaps, like me, you even do a little bit of research about these great places beforehand to enhance your understanding and enjoyment.

These mega-star travel sites, the Grand Canyons and the Old Faithfuls, are – and should be – musts on bucket lists. But it’s the little surprises along the way that give meaning to my journeys.

In Carthage, Missouri, one of these surprises was a statue in a small park. I asked my traveling companion, a single female traveler like myself whom I had hooked up with for the day’s outing at the Red Barn RV Park, whom the statue honored. She didn’t know, but she was as curious as I was to know the answer. So we stopped.

Nothing could have delighted me more than to discover the statue was Marlin Perkins. This gentle man’s exotic animal adventures on TV’s Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom back in the 1960s and early ’70s had fed both my love of nature and my wanderlust. A native of Carthage, Perkins was among the first to bring exotic wildlife into America’s living rooms.

The bronze statue of Perkins, created by Carthage artists Bob Tommey and Bill Snow, has him kneeling with a giant pair of binoculars in his hand. As a birder whose binoculars are never far from hand, I felt a renewed kinship with this man who loved and worked to protect nature and all that exists in it.

May I always remember to allows take time in my traveling schedule for such surprises.

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