Stories to tell

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is rich with atmosphere.  Roanoke Island, North Carolina, September 2013

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is rich with imaginary echoes of the Lost Colony.
Roanoke Island, North Carolina, September 2013

“With thousands of years of human habitation, this land surely has stories to tell.  The trees rustle with whispers of those who have come and gone.” — from a display at the Visitor’s Center at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

Recently Jeff and I visited beautiful Roanoke Island, North Carolina, the site of the mysterious “Lost Colony.” Encountering such unanswered questions of history, it’s easy to let imagination take flight as surely as the Wright brothers’ plane did at nearby Kill Devil Hills. The sylvan enchantment of the grounds around Fort Raleigh are especially captivating for those of us who are inclined to create mental pictures to fill in the gaps left by the information engraved on historic markers.

Have you ever visited a place rich with history and felt some intangible sense of what happened there in years past?  Do you love to read historical novels that take up where the often debatable “facts” of history leave off?  Touring a spot that has stories to tell, whether it’s a modest home built centuries ago or the ruins of an ancient city, helps me step out of my own circumstances and breathe in the richly textured nuances left behind in whatever remains or has been re-created.  As with all forms of travel, visiting another era gives me perspective on my own struggles, helping me see my life with newly appreciative eyes.

If traveling to a geographically distant place is not possible for you anytime soon, try taking a vacation to a bygone era.  No matter where you live, you will be close enough to such a place to make a daytime visit there and be back in our own time by evening.  You won’t need to pack anything except maybe a camera, but do bring along your imagination.  Those of you who are experienced time travelers, share some of your flights of fancy with us!


  1. HarryS

    Try a cemetery. 🙂

    • Oh, wow – you don’t even want to know how many photos I’ve taken in cemeteries! I’ve never seen them as spooky or disagreeable. Just more stories, each marker representing a life full of complexity, even for an infant, who would have left behind grieving parents. Perhaps I’ll feature some of my cemetery photos here sometime. By the way, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Paris is the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise – one could easily spend hours there without even seeing the most famous graves. I’ve used a couple of photos from there on this blog already – you can see one of them here.

  2. Sheila

    Good morning, Julia. Gettysburg is one of our favorite places to visit, usually in November. One year, while there with friends, the four of us enjoyed taking the car audio tour on a crisp November day (in the comfort of our car). The dialogue of the CD, getting out to read a monument, or stopping to enjoy a view made for a memorable experience. Thanks for the “chicken soup” this morning. I feel better already! 🙂

    • Sheila, a year ago when Jeff was first diagnosed, we said that we were going to try to get to Gettysburg some weekend “soon” (as you know, “some weekend soon” often never arrives) and we do plan to go there at our first opportunity. We have never been. I also want to go to Harper’s Ferry, which I imagine will be positively thick with the sort of atmosphere I described in the post. I’ll mention to Jeff about the car audio tour – it might be possible for him to have enough energy for something like that. Thanks for the idea; maybe we’ll go in November too! I also want to see the luminaries at Antietam. Our friend Aaron used to go with his scout troop every year to help light them.

      • Sheila

        I know you’ll enjoy researching Gettysburg 150th Anniversary. The Remembrance Day celebration is November 22nd and 23rd this year. The Saturday parade is always fun.
        I hope all is well with you this Wednesday morning. 🙂

        • Hi Sheila, I got the lovely card from you yesterday, THANKS so much! I read it aloud to my sister this morning when she called to see how I was doing. I hadn’t even considered about the 150th Anniversary – seems like I remember seeing a story about it in the Washington Post awhile back, but the newspapers are piling up unread right now. Good thing we only get the Sunday edition. They are so interesting that I can’t stand to throw them away unread. I’d better get to it before I end up on “Desperate hoarding housewives of DC” or something. 🙂 Thanks for checking in with me this morning. Hope you have a fun day.

  3. You know what you say strikes a chord with me. I used to say, “I read mostly nonfiction”; but increasingly the work of authors like James Michener seem to “flesh out the barebones” of historical fact.
    I want to add that the places of these intangible connections to the past do not depend upon the opening of metal gates of the National Park Service – many times the federally controled portion of an historic site only encompasses a small fraction of that porrtion of land, deemed hallowed by the events of history.

    • Yes, when I mentioned “a modest home built centuries ago” I was actually thinking of the home where our grandmother and father were born, though it’s not yet two centuries old. If the parks and monuments represent the facts, then the unmarked places tell the back story. As the poet Wendell Berry wrote, “There are no unsacred places. There are only sacred places, and desecrated places.”

  4. Our friends own a villa on the Turk side of Cyprus and they took us to visit Salamis. There were still tile patterns on the floor and for some reason I could just close my eyes and see myself there. I could picture it all as it must have been when Paul was there. I have never forgotten that feeling. I have been lucky to visit some wonderful historic places. I love to read too so I can go all sorts of places with book. Glad you and Jeff got to have some time away. I can’t wait to hear all about it.

    • Amy, I am so frustrated that I STILL haven’t gotten around to calling you. So much has happened/is happening that I don’t know how I will ever catch you up. Maybe that’s a good thing. I remember your mentioning how much you loved Cyprus. Perhaps someday I will be able to go there. You will probably always be the only person I know who has even been to Ascension, let alone lived there. Too bad I missed my chance to visit you there! Right now I’d settle for a cup of tea in Manassas or Alexandria! Hope to talk to you soon.

  5. Carlyle

    I much enjoyed this post! Recalling our many visits to the Shiloh battle field. I particularly remember a trip Eric and I made on our “shared birthday” some years ago.
    As we stood at the cannon implacements in the “Peach Orchard”, Eric, in an almost whisper asked, ” Do you hear the guns?” And I did.

    • Daddy, you may or may not remember, but I had the eeriest experience when we went to Shiloh when I was very young – maybe 5 or 6 years old? I was terrified of it. Each place we stopped I would beg Mama not to get out of the car but to stay there with me, and since her feet were tired, she did so at most stops, while you and Eric and sometimes Carla got out and saw the various points of interest. I can remember hearing talk of the Hornet’s Nest and Bloody Pond, and these terms alone may have been enough to frighten an overly-imaginative child, but the fear I felt on that visit has stayed in my memory. While Jeff was in dental school we took a group of kids from church to visit and it was not as ominous as I had remembered it, but it is definitely a place that is heavy with echoes of the past. While I was at Lipscomb my history professor (who was one of the most engaging teachers I’ve ever had; his lectures were detailed and NEVER boring) wrote and had published a book about Shiloh titled In Hell Before Night, the title taken from a prophetic quote of one of the soldiers.

  6. Mike Bertoglio

    On last trip to Atlanta our son took us to (Etoah) sp? Indian mounds monument- near Cartersville. Mystery surrounds what the mounds were actually used for. Also the monument near Canton that marks the beginning of the Cherokee-trail of trees is chilling and not a little sad. Sarah Vowell has some writings on this ignominious chapter of American History. Also the Cherokees had quite an advanced settlement at New Ochoa and there are some monuments there. Lots of echoes there.

    • Mike, if you did not get to see Unto These Hills, I highly recommend it. I saw it when I was a child and I’ve nursed a grudge against Andrew Jackson ever since. For years my private Cherokee name for myself has been “Junaluska” after a leader of the Eastern Cherokee — to quote Wikipedia and other sources, it means “One who tries but fails.” I remembered the name and its meaning from seeing the drama nearly 50 years ago. The Trail of Tears is one of the saddest chapters in American history, but the outdoor drama explains how a relative handful of the Cherokee people were allowed to stay behind and live in the land of their birth.

  7. I was sent to Okinawa for two weeks temporary duty while in the Army and completed my mission in about three days. This left me with a lot of time to kill and one day I chose to kill it on horseback. I rented one from a roadside stable and crossed the saddle between two mountain peaks to descend into a valley that emptied into the sea.

    Near the bottom, I encountered two farmers plowing their rice paddy with a ox-drawn wooden plow. They were dressed pretty much as their ancestors might have dressed hundreds of years ago. As I watched I glanced towards the sky and couldn’t see any sign of modern civilization. Not a contrail in the sky. Not a single overhead wire. The quiet was undisturbed by the sound of a motor or any other sign of human traffic.

    As I attempted to ride a narrow trail past them, my horse balked at the scent of the ox and I dismounted to guide him past. The farmers rushed to apologize. In the next two hours that followed, they shared their lunch of rice balls and dried fish with me and proudly showed me their world. Their halting English and my halting Japanese filled in some gaps, but most communication occurred in sign language.

    As the afternoon wore on, I remounted and gave my mount its head. Being the smarter of the two of us, he found his home with little trouble.

    I cherish this memory. It was one such idle in the time machine for me…

    • Thanks so much, Jack, for sharing this beautiful story with us. Such events are almost otherworldly, aren’t they? My father once explained to me that we can’t re-create or plan such things, we can only be open to them when they come. I appreciate your taking the time to share your “time travel” experience with us! I know there are many in this community who will enjoy reading about it.

  8. Mike Bertoglio

    Beautiful story from Jack which reminds me of something that happened in Mazatlan some years ago. To be continued.
    But you will have to read Sarah’s Book “Wordy Shipmates” if I remember correctly which has a chapter entitled,” When I look at a 20 dollar Bill.’ After reading this I share your opinion of Mr. Jackson who broke promise after promise to the Cherokee.
    Never saw “Unto these Hills.’ Hope to visit New Ochoa on my next visit to Atlanta. As you know, the Cherokee had their own newspaper there and were doing quite nicely.

    • Thanks for the tip on that book, Mike. It does look interesting. Our older son always told me that the Puritans were much different (mostly in a good way) from their superficial reputation in America. I do have a book on Anne Hutcheson, American Jezebel, that I have been intending to read for years. After I got your comment I started looking for it and it has gone missing, along with Founding Mothers, another nice hardback someone gave me. I must have loaned them out and then forgot who I loaned them to. I hate it when that happens!

  9. Such a relatable topic Julia. When we were in Rome, standing in the Coliseum, it’s easy to be amazed that you are walking up steps that ancient romans first climbed over 1,900 years ago. It’s a little eerie. But I don’t have to go all the way to Rome to imagine the past. My Aunty and I visited a small church out in the countryside where my grandfather is buried. The windows have wavy glass. As I looked out onto the grass, I imagined my dad doing the same as a younger man. There are gentle reminders all around.

    • Yes, and how lucky we are to have them! I hope there will always be those who understand the need to preserve these tangible links to the past, which lives on (literally and figuratively) in our world today. Thanks for the comment and sharing your memories of Rome and home!


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