“The Land of a Thousand Dances”-Traveling with the Forrest Gump Soundtrack


One, two, three!
You gotta know how to pony like Bony Maronie
Mashed Potato, do the Alligator
Put your hands on your hips, let your back-bone slip
Do the Watusi, like my little Lucy
Na, na na na na, na na na na, na na na, na na na, na na na na.

“Land of a Thousand Dances” written by Christopher Kenner in 1962

Hit single by Wilson Pickett in 1966

It really funny how little humans comprehend. I remember dancing to this song in my all white high school in Western New York and as we tried to master The Pony and The Mashed Potatoes we had no idea we were trying to emulate another culture. Maybe it was because we were self centered teenagers and deep into the comfort zone of our all caucasian world. But luckily music was a universal language that first exposed us to a world beyond what we grew up in.

I’m ashamed to say I needed to look up Wilson Picket to learn more about him for this post. I realized that over the years I enjoyed dancing to a lot of his singles including “Mustang Sally” and “In the Midnight Hour”.

In the 1960’s, I was part of a white closed system but not completely. I lived next door to Mr. C.’s farm. Looking out my bedroom window, I could see his yellow house, the grey shingled barn, the collection of outbuildings and beyond it all, acres of orchards. They were my refuge, a lovely deviation from the limits life imposed on me. I was shy and self conscious in high school and I was always glad to get home. School was like a game board with rigid rules and what seemed like only one path. Competition was intense, some won and others were left behind.

I would change my clothes after school and then go down to my father’s cluttered workshop that smelled of oil and dirt to retrieve my bike. Pushing and pulling it over the dry clods of a plowed field I’d finally get it to the powdery road that weaved through Mr. C.’s farm.

My route passed a stagnant pond that was be mixed with insecticides stored nearby. The smell from the fumes was terrible. It was the 1960’s, no one knew any better.

As I pumped the pedals of my bike as hard as I could, row after row of plum, apple and peach trees blurred into lovely shades of green and chartreuse. Sometimes I would stop to pick the ripest fruit from a high branch closest to the sun. Other times I would keep going hoping for the freedom that motion offered.

When I reached the halfway point of my journey, I came to a field where vegetables were grown for sale. A cluster of hunched over bodies dotted the area. I slowed down and was surprised to see black people picking tomatoes. I had never seen anything like this in real life. Sure I had watched “Amos and Andy” and Shirley Temple with her African-American dance partner but this was different.

I noticed that no one acknowledged the loud clicking sound of my old bike. Something seemed to press them all down, forbidding them to make any connection with me.

On I went. A wonderful hill and the gift of gravity were next. I pumped harder and harder and my mind raced.Where did the workers come from? Where did they go when the sun set and darkness came?

Down, down the hill I sailed. The speed and the rushing air cleared my mind. I was gloriously free in the moment.

The road leveled, my bike slowed and I was home again.

Having returned the bike to the dank darkness of my father’s workshop, I walked back to the my house but was stopped by an intruder, a rooster who stood a foot and a half tall. It was autumn personified from the red of its comb and wattle, to the rusty brown on its back, and the yellow cascading down its head and chest. Its grandness was further accentuated by the explosion black feathers at its tail.

The exotic creature was unlike any barnyard poultry I had ever seen. and I sensed that the bird had been bred and raised for a special mission and its defiance frightened me.

The rooster took a step forward, unfurled its huge wings, rose into the air, and thrust its open talons toward me. I screamed and ran into the house as the rooster slowly sauntered into the nearby plum orchard sensing it had made its point.


My mom was preparing dinner and my dad reading the paper laid out before him on the kitchen table. I told then about the attacking rooster and my father told me it belonged to a worker Mr. C. had hired to help with the farm. He went on to describe the rooster’s owner as “Good Ole Sherm” who wore no shoes and who had feet as wide as they were long and was “black as the ace of spades.”

No one ever had to explain to me that during my childhood I lived in a very intolerant country and was part of a prejudice family. My grandparent came to this country directly from Poland in the early 1900’s and I frequently felt the sharp painful stabs of Polish jokes. And my dad and mom seemed to have a lot of negative things to says about other ethnic people, racial minorities and, from time to time, various religious groups.

My dad volunteered to take me to see Sherm about the rooster. After supper, I followed him through the plum orchard to Sherm’s home in Mr. C.’s abandoned chicken coop.

Constructed with old cinder blocks that looked like small grey loaves of course bread, the squat structure had a black tar paper roof and paned windows on three sides. Someone had attempted to clean the glass but dirt stubbornly clung to corners. The small door for chickens was nailed shut. A larger entrance, four weathered vertical boards held together with two horizontal boards, had an empty tuna fish can for a knob.

My father knocked on the door and after a moment it was opened by a tall middle-aged black man in overalls, a flannel shirt, and work boots who seemed happy to see us and welcomed us in.

My father went in first. I followed. The windows brought light into cramped space that was furnished with a broken wicker chair, a lime green formica table with rusted chrome sides and legs, a red kitchen chair covered in cracked plastic upholstery, and a small cot. The shelter had no water, electricity, or bathroom. An oil lamp, camp stove, and a battered aluminum cooler were the only conveniences. I didn’t smell any chicken odor, only the masking scent of white wash.

My father sat down on the wicker chair, I stood. Sherm did not look at me but pulled the chair away from the table and gently motioned for me to sit down. The two men talked about the rooster and laughed as they came up with a plan. They discussed this year’s crop and the need for more rain. Sherm asked if he could get us something. My dad nodded.

Sherm took one step toward the cooler on the floor, opened it and took out a glass bottle of orange juice. He reached up to a wooden plank shelf over the door and brought down three glasses. I could see that they had not been washed thoroughly and a hazy film remained.

I watched my father raise a dirty glass to his lips and drink the warm golden liquid until it was gone. I did the same.

I learned a lot about the hypocrisy of prejudice that day, that humans find great personal benefit in labeling other people with broad unjustified brush strokes. Maybe we do it because we are afraid or lazy or because there is comfort in being a member of a tribe. But if we take the time to talk to individuals, really listen and get to know them, everything would be a lot easier. My dad, despite his prejudicial comments in private, treated Sherm, the person, with the greatest respect and compassion. Witnessing that simple act of hospitality and the resulting act of total acceptance has had a lasting impact on me. I believe in inclusion and the importance of an open mind and an open heart.

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All right reserved.

India-Celebrating Indian Style-Part 3-Blowing Up Evil

Picture from indiamarks.com


The Hindu holiday, Dussehra, symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. Rama, a major deity, kills Ravana who has kidnapped Rama’s wife, Sita. Sita is a revered goddess for her virtues of good character, good fortune, success and happiness. Rama’s skill as an archer brings down not only Ravana but his brother, Kumbhkarna and his son, Meghnad

I was able to see this story dramatically reenacted with 75 foot tall effigies made of paper and bamboo and filled with fireworks.

The crowds waited for the symbolic arrows to be shot by someone dressed like Rama. First the brother and son statues burst into flames, completely destroying them.

And then with the loud crackles and bangs of fireworks, Ravana explored from within and burst into flames. The crowd of thousands cheered.

Evil was destroyed and goodness and justice were restored! Spectacular!

India-History Speaking through Art

As part of my tour, I was taken to the Qutub Complex in Delhi which was built by Muslims in 1192 who conquered and then occupied Hindu Delhi. During this time they constructed a mosque and a tower, The Qutub Minar.

Picture by zeenews.india.com

The tower is 220 feet tall and made out of variegated and detailed layers of sandstone and marble. The garlands and lotus are characteristic of Indo-Iranian design.



I love art and art history and was thrilled to see, close at hand, the intricate carvings in stone. I am always amazed at the skill and patience of crafts people of long ago.



The site is part of history, a reminder of one of the many times India was under the rule of a group outside its borders. It will be forever an UNESCO World Heritage Site, always protected for all of us to experience and learn from.

India-A Muslim Friend

Travel opens us to new worlds. I have lived my whole life in rural areas in New York State, quiet places that have little diversity. I have really never known a Muslim even though there is a mosque in my area. Like many Americans, I know very little about Islam. Unfortunately in my country there is a lot of suspicion about the people of this religion and almost a taboo about wanting to know knowing more about them

I found out our guide was Muslim as he took great pride in telling us about the Mughals, Muslims who came from Persia (present day Iran ) and ruled India from 1556-1707. They ran a consolidated government that used local people to collect taxes in cash from agricultural sources and trade. The arts flourished especially in the form in architecture. Forts, mosques, and mausoleums, notability the Taj Mahal, were build under their reign. Tolerance was encouraged as Hindus were integrated into the governing process. But as time went on, systems broke down and the Mughals lost their hold on India.

Our tour guide was the first person of the Muslim faith I ever had an opportunity to really talk to. He was kind and very patient with me as I tried to sort out all the sights and sounds of India and relate them to what I knew and hoped to learn. On one of our last days, I mention to him that I wanted to buy a terracotta cup that is meant to absorb the excess water from the yogurt. I really thought this was clever and I wanted to show people back home. Near the Ganges River on the way back to our bus, the guide stopped our group at a stand and asked us if we wanted a chai tea. A few of us, including myself, said we would. Our guide paid for them all and then he handed me a larger cup, a yogurt cup, that he had some how gotten from the vendor. I was thrilled by this kind gesture. This little cup is my most precious souvenir of the trip. Its meaning goes beyond its efficiency. It represents a new knowing and a change of heart and mind that will always stay with me.

In America, as part of my country’s culture, I was programed to suspect and fear anything to do with the words “Muslim” or “Islam”. It is so much easier, as a human beings, to label people with broad brush strokes and dismissing them, sometimes forgetting they exist or, even worse, hating them. We don’t take times to listen to stories and really look at reality and gather facts. I’m now spending some time learning about Islam and I will no longer feel uncomfortable doing it.

I have my first Muslim friend. It is sad that it took almost a lifetime to find one but I feel so fortunate that it was him.

Mayfly-A Fly Fishing Woman’s Tale

The Autonomous Traveler

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When I was newly divorced and my kids were off to college I used to go to a place with a band every Friday evening with my single female friends. Heads up and stomachs sucked in, we pretended to be aloof.  Neon beer signs, the tiny red dots on the sound equipment, and a street light through a grimy window provided the bar’s main illumination.  But dragged down by disappointment and gravity, we welcomed the dim lighting. We always chose a table close to the small stage thinking that proximity to the band increased our chances of being asked to dance. We deemed some of the males unsuitable and rejected them. And since there is justice everywhere, even in a place that served draft beer and cheap wine, the men that we saw as desirable rejected us.

I would sip coffee in my living room the next morning hoping it…

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A North Country Love Affair

The Autonomous Traveler

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Author’s note: Since I wrote this piece a few years ago, I have to confess, The North Country and I now have an open relationship.  I go to Florida during the winter months.  But this is home, my base camp and I always return.   I’m here now. Unfortunately, the weatherman is predicting ice and sleet for this weekend. Ugh!

A North Country Love Affair

Being involved with the North Country is like being in a bad love affair. The summer woos me with warm breezes off  one of  The Great Lakes and the river. It offers me lush greens and sunlit days. It entices me with a multitude of lavish experiences: picnics under the trees, quiet moments on the shore, spectacular thunderstorms topped off with rainbows, and romantic interludes under the stars listening to the crickets and watching fireflies. It presents me with fantastic gifts: the sweet serenade of birds, the…

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It’s All About the Math-Hiking in the Adirondacks

The Autonomous Traveler

Forty nine

One day when I was 46, I decided to hike all 46 of The High Peaks of the Adirondacks. I tend to live out my life in headlines, always proclaiming a new interest with passion and bursts of wild enthusiasm. So 46 at 46! The coincidence had a certain mystical quality to it and I was convinced that it was a personal thumbs up from Mother Nature herself.

My odyssey skyward started slowly. Having been recently divorced and with my two children away at college, I suddenly had time for myself and took up walking. It was good exercise and a way to manage my weight. But most of all I loved the freedom to finally be a self-contained unit moving forward in the the direction of my choice under my own power. I found peace in the rhythm of my steps and breathes. I enjoyed the smells, the green…

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“Can You Hear My Voice this Time?”

The Autonomous Traveler

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Sometimes traveling is not about tickets and long flights. Sometimes a significant journey is unplanned and brief. On March 14, I came out of an adult education class at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida and saw a large circle of college students under the campus gazebo. Because I didn’t want to intrude, I stood and watched from about fifty feet away. I listened to the speakers talk about the loss of seventeen lives in Parkland, Florida and the need  for people to reach out to each other with kindness. I moved into the circle and was handed a candle.  As a flame went from one person to another, a young stranger shared the energy of the light with me. The group walked silently around the perimeter of the college, coming back full circle to the gazebo. A group of students sang a song with the line “Can you hear…

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70/7000 Flying Insects, Thin Tent Walls, A Flood, and A Bag of Jewels

Day 61  August 25, 2001

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I stayed in a campsite in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Two unsettling things happened there.  First, the whole campground was filled with all types of flying insects.  I asked  if this was the norm and the people in charge just shrugged their shoulders.  Forest fires were popping up all over The West and I wondered if insects, like other animals, migrated to escape the danger. I never considered that before but it seemed to make sense.

My second situation involved the married couple with their two small kids who had the site next to me. Sometimes campgrounds are like mini suburban housing projects, one dwelling almost on top of the other.  This family’s tent was about a foot and a half from my tent.  I guess their kids were sound sleepers and wouldn’t hear any love making sounds.  What this couple didn’t realize was that I, inches away, wasn’t a sound sleeper and that I had very good hearing.

The next morning I went into Grand Forks where in 1997 The Red River had flooded the city. It was interesting to actually be at a place that had gotten so much coverage in the news.

I stopped at a craft shop on the main street and immediately rummaged through their clearance table at the front of the store. Nestled in a basket was a collection of shiny plastic jewels in all sorts of colors. There must of been close to a hundred of them. I asked the saleslady how much she wanted for all of them.  I guess she just wanted to rid of them because she let me buy them for almost nothing. I walked out of the shop triumphant as I listened to the jewels jumbling around in the bag.  I knew my  second grade students would love them as rewards. These magical pieces of plastic were far better than stickers.  I was so excited about the smiles and motivation I knew this treasure would bring to my classroom.

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70/7000 A Bar in a Church and a Grizzly Bear

Days 57-60  August 21-24, 2001

Heading home but still taking in the sights.

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I took this picture of  The Mint Bar built inside a church in Sundance, Montana.  Ironic? Amazing?  Amusing?  “The Wild West” is quite the place!

grizley bear

I stopped at the Cabela’s Store in Billings, stood under a stuffed grizzly bear, and learned that adult bears average 8 feet tall and weigh 900 pounds. I think what upset me the most were the very long , sharp nails on the paws. So glad I never met one of these creatures.  I now have a very healthy fear of them.