A lot of things and people and places have fallen away from our family in the last decade. Sometimes it has felt like nothing but an emptying out, and sometimes the losses have led to wonderful and unexpected new beginnings.
These new beginnings remind me that if everything that was lost had remained in our life, we might not have set off to unexplored territories, territories that have been tremendously meaningful to us. The emptiness made us bold in unexpected ways and pushed us to new horizons.
Take for example the Camino. Though only Ben and Elizabeth walked the Camino, it has filled all our lives with stories and images, spiritual gifts and a feeling of having been on their bold adventure with them, if only from the peanut gallery.
Reading and rereading the drafts of Elizabeth’s book, learning the towns and places strung along the trail, studying the gifts of the Camino Essences linked as they are to these now familiar places, then connecting it all to Lizzy and Ben’s adventures and the pilgrims they met- It has made me feel a part of something bigger than myself- and in a life where travel has not figured greatly, this has been wonderfully expansive and fun.
From childhood, I always felt reading a great book or listening to a tale well told had the tang of adventure even for the listener. I am grateful I feel this way about Ben and Lizzy’s Camino tales.
There is a marvelous scene in the movie Apollo 13 where the NASA engineers in Houston are given a pile of exactly the same odds and end that are onboard the apparently doomed space ship. They are told that they need to solve the ventilation problems on the spaceship with what is there before them then walk the astronauts through their own construction of a gizmo built from these random odds and ends. Everyone understands that this is the only way to save the astronauts. And as we know, the engineer’s ingenuity wins the day and the astronauts survive.
Today is Jim’s birthday and I am excited about a project we took on for his birthday. It speaks to armchair adventures as well as making do with what is, trying to accept a loss as well as move on from it.
The loss on my mind today as I assemble Jim’s birthday gift is the place in the Adirondacks. It was six miles up a lake by boat with no electricity and no roads. This made it a place of wilderness and adventure for all of us, no less so for Jim who spent two summer building a four bedroom sleeping cabin next to the original camp, carrying every last piece of lumber up the lake in a jury rigged barge.
One much loved detail in the original camp was that the bedroom walls were lined with covers from a pulp magazine called Adventure. Collected in the 1920’s and 1930’s by my grandfather and his sister, these covers were much studied by generations of children. We would lie in our camp beds under heavy blankets and point our flashlights at one cover after another. It was always a bit of an adventure to go up the creaking stairs to our beds, but peering at these covers in the dark sent us further into a delicious state of terror.
Many covers showed vicious characters chasing someone down. In one memorable cover a very scary looking man was coming out from a cargo hold with a knife in his teeth. Pirates abounded as did cowboys encircled by cigarette smoke and understandable hostile Indians about to do them in. The covers so often caught the moment of ultimate tension in a story.
The particularly haunting ones were the ones where you knew the guy on the cover was not going to make it. There were a number of covers showing a solitary arctic explorer in the middle of nowhere, heading to his own frozen death. These pictures were almost the scariest because they had such a palpable sense of loneliness.
I used to look at every last cover each night before falling asleep. Some were so frightening that my heart would start pounding before the flashlight’s beam met its image. When I was little, I always slept in my grandfather’s childhood bedroom so my grandfather’s covers were much more familiar to me. In later years when I ended up in my great aunt’s room, there was a whole new collection of terrifying images to memorize.
It occurred to me one day that perhaps I could find Adventure covers on the internet to put on the walls of the new bathroom in a surprise birthday moment for Jim. I had taken on a similar project last year when I decided to find each of the kids a copy of a much loved fairy tale book, read every summer on the Adirondack camp porch.
Boy cousins, brothers, uncles and then my own sons seemed to find Jack the Giant Killer the most satisfying story in the collection whereas girls seemed divided between stories like Furball
or Beauty and the Beast.
or The Dancing Shoes
While I had managed to find four copies of this 1928 fairy tale book, I couldn’t find any Adventure covers for sale. However, I did find a website that was collecting cover images from as many pulp magazines as possible. According to this website, these covers were often the way artists made a living during the first half of the twentieth century, and they are now being collected as art. They had a jackpot of Adventure covers.
We spent many winter nights studying the covers on this website before making our selection. Choosing just one that we all remembered, we decided to move on with new Adventure covers just as we have moved on with new Adventures- a little bit of a shout out to what was but mostly an appreciation of what is.
We settled on a group, none of them as scary as the ones we remembered (though perhaps that’s because we weren’t looking at them with flashlights in a dark dark room a long way from civilization). I hung them today. Here’s a view of six to give you the flavor. From here on out, it will be an Adventure! to visit the new bathroom!