29 March 2011

What do you carry: a Blog Off post

Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "What are you carrying?"


I fancy myself to be a bit of a traveler and the many places life's brought me so far have left an indelible mark on me. I'm a better man for having seen some places most people only read about and it's not something I take lightly. So whether it was trekking through a Panamanian rain forest or having the Spanish steps all to myself on a rainy Sunday morning, places and experiences stay with me.

I like to travel lightly and I'm not much of a shopper, but something I've been doing for the last 20 years or so is accumulating odds and ends from the places where I've been. These stones and sticks, bones and feathers end up in a jar on my dresser. That jar is my world in miniature it reminds me how fortunate I am every morning. The theme this week is What do You Carry? And my answer is that I carry with me every experience I've ever had. Some highlights:

This is an ancient Roman bell, it's one of the three ancient Roman artifacts I own. That this bronze bell was once sewn into the hem of someone's clothes thrills me to my core.

This is a small piece of brick from the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. The ruins in Rome are crumbling and this small piece of brick ended up getting washed off the building that once held the grandest baths the world has ever seen and it landed on a path I was walking on. Holding a piece of Roman engineering is almost as thrilling as holding a piece of Roman ornament.

These are shells from a beach in Honduras. If you ever want a get away for some solitude,  Honduras fits that bill nicely. The Honduran people are amazing and they need your money. Go.

This is a piece of pumice I fished out of a hillside in Pompeii. This piece of pumice is one of the billions of pieces of pumice spewed out of Mount Vesuvius on August 24th, 79 and buried Pompeii.

This is pumice I pried out of the cliffs in Herculaneum. This stuff looks so harmless now. 

This is a piece of granite from the summit of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, California.  Mount Tam was the backdrop to an important period in my life and when I hold onto that rock it's like I'm there all over again.

This is a feather I found on Cat Island in The Bahamas. It once belonged to a common ground dove, which are the most comical birds I've ever had the pleasure to interact with.

This is a piece of quartz from Guanajuato, Mexico. Mexico is a beleaguered country and good news from there is hard to come by in the US press. Mexico is a wonder and it has a history that predates anything on this side of the border by centuries.

My great friends Bob and Rick live just outside of Philadelphia and this is a piece of mica  I retrieved from their woods.

This is a shell from the beach in Positano. I've written about the wonder that is Positano here before and this misshapen shell is a perfect metaphor for the place.

This desiccated tree frog once stowed away in my luggage when I was in Panama. I never knew he was there and by the time I got home he hadn't survived the ordeal.

This is a shell from a beach in Mayreau in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The extreme southern Caribbean is littered with unpopulated islands, many of which are only accessible by sailboat, which is how I got there. Why anyone would set foot on a cruise ship is beyond me.

I bought this ring from an old woman in Puerto Limón, Costa Rica for around 75 cents. It's silver and I wore it for nearly ten years.

This is a piece of lavender I picked from a roadside in France in what seems like a lifetime ago. It's at least 16 years old and it still smells like lavender.

This is a piece of stainless steel I retrieved from a factory parking lot in Germany last winter.
So what do I carry? My history and the stories I've accumulated.

As the day goes on, the rest of the participants in today's Blog Off will appear miraculously at the end of this post. Keep checking back and check out everybody's postss. You can follow along in Twitter as well, just look for the hashtag #LetsBlogOff. If you'd like more information about about the Blog Off or if you'd like to see the results of previous Blog Offs, you can find the main website here.


  1. My wife collects rocks from everywhere we go!

    She just loves rocks. She collects sea shells as well but we don't get to the ocean much.

    I think she would really appreciate your list!

  2. Thanks James, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one!

  3. I have a small collection of white stones (quartz maybe?) off the beach at the ruins of Tintagel Castle when I was 13. It amazes me that 27 years later, I still have them.

  4. The best souvenirs are the ones you find.

  5. Great stories accompany each object I imagine. What a fantastic post for this topic.

  6. Oh indeed. There's a story for everything in that jar.

  7. That Roman bell is so cool! And that 16-year-old sprig of lavender is also pretty dope. Still scaring scorpions away, eh? (At least I've heard that's one use for it..) Your little jar is a mini Earth - a very nifty reminder of the places you've been. My little mementos are spread around the house, on display and in keepsake boxes, etc. I like to happen upon them from time to time and revel in their sentimentality.

  8. Great stuff! I love collecting items from my travels, too, then keeping them visible in my home. It connects away and at peace in ways nothing else can.

  9. Cham: I had no idea that lavender chased away scorpions. Maybe that's why I've never seen one here. Would that it worked on palmetto bugs.

    Jamie: Truly. No geegaw I could buy can conjure what that piece of brick from the Baths of Caracalla does.

  10. I read it in a book with a Provencal location - "A Good Year" by Peter Mayle. The related scenes in the movie were pretty priceless.

  11. You remind me... a leaving home song:

    Goodbye dears, I just can’t please you
    You’ll have to love me anyway.
    Though I sail to foreign shores
    I’ll send back gifts along the way.

    A forest in a dry pressed flower,
    The ocean’s echo in a shell,
    A pebble from a mountain top,
    I’ll send to tell you all is well.

    I’ve tethered, rudderless, at anchor
    Scared to leave your loving hands.
    Time to set my sails and go
    Beauty makes her own demands.

    You’ve worried that I’ve lacked direction,
    Feared I’ll end up old and poor.
    Memories I’ll have aplenty
    Though I beg from door to door.

    Lands and gold my not be mine.
    Treasures I will store instead,
    Dear companions for the road,
    Songs to barter for my bread.

    I will not argue for a moment.
    Yours is far the wiser way.
    But send me onward with your blessing.
    Only one thing more to say.

    Remember that I’ll think of you
    On rolling wave and rocky shore.
    I’ll bring you with me in my heart
    As I wander and explore.

    The silence of a forest pool,
    The quiet of a lover’s sigh,
    The crackle of a stranger’s fire,
    Thank you for my life.
    © 1999 Flip Breskin

  12. That's beautiful, thank you.

  13. Hah! Better a talisMAN than a Jazzman.


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