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Friends of a Long Year is a private mailing list bringing stories to your inbox like it's still 1995. It's written in the spirit of Mary Austin. It was originally called Place Without a Postcard, which does a better job of summarizing what I like to write about. Friends is delivered roughly twice a month.


Forever Today

Pompeii, Italy Pompeii feels both very old and not that different from the modern cities that surround it now. The gap between then and now feels small because when you wander around places like Pompeii you realize that human beings have changed very little over vast expanses of time. Pompeii had the same elements of cities today, a central square, markets, temples, government offices, even fast food. Not much has changed over the years, though togas aren’t much in vogue these days.

The New Pollution

Napoli (Naples), Italy Naples Italy is a big, crowded, graffiti-filled city. It's an intimidating place that is by turns a bit like Philadelphia, a bit Mumbai, a bit some post-apocalyptic video game and, in the end, something else entirely. Still, given the tourist epidemic that sweeps Italy every summer, Naples is a place worth appreciating for what it is not, even if what is isn't, perhaps, enough to ever bring you back.

The Language of Cities

Paris, France Paris is angry. Cities can get angry. This isn't the first time it's happened to me. New York threw me out once. Los Angeles and I left on mutually hostile terms, though we've since made up. Cities have personalities just like people, and to really be part of a city your personalities have to mesh, you have to find each other on your own terms everyday.

From Here We Go Sublime

Paris, France Just arrived Dulles-Reykjavik-Paris, 26-hour trip, no sleep. I see things. I see a grizzly looking Spaniard selling old railway lanterns at the flea market, I see muslim men playing basketball in skull caps, I see a Michael Faraday experiment with bulbs and wires enclosed in glass that turns out to be just an elevator. I see a stout Frenchwoman closing the gates of Pere Lachaise, no more dead, we've had enough of you.

We Used to Wait For It

Los Angeles, California, U.S. When we first came here, there was nothing. Downtown Los Angeles was an empty husk of a place fifteen years ago. Now it's reborn, alive and kicking. Yet there is something in the older buildings, something in the old walls, something lost in the bricks, something in the concrete, the marble. Something you don’t find anymore. Something we need to find again.

The World Outside

Athens, Georgia, U.S. The world outside the house is blanketed in snow, a monochrome of white interrupted only by the dark, wet trunks of trees, the red brick of chimneys, the occasional green of shrubs poking through. The roads are unbroken expanses of smooth white, no one is out yet, no footprints track their way through the snowy sidewalk. The world outside is the same as it was last night, before the snow began, and yet, it feels totally different.

Charleston A-Z

Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. Charleston alphabetically. For example, Q is for quiet, Charleston has a lot of it. Just head down to the Battery area, walk through the park and starting walking down the side streets. Take one of the many alleys and walkways that weave between the massive, stately houses. Get lost. It doesn't take much to find a quiet place of your own.

Dinosaur National Monument, Part Two: Down the River

Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado, U.S. This is the only real way to see Dinosaur National Monument — you must journey down the river. There are two major rivers running through Dinosaur, the Yampa, which carves through Yampa Canyon, and the Green, which cuts through Lodore. Adventure Bound Rafting runs some of the best whitewater rafting trips in Colorado and I was lucky enough to go down the Green River with them, through the majestic Lodore Canyon.

Dinosaur National Monument, Part One: Echo Park

Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado, U.S. Dinosaur National Monument was poorly named. The best parts of it are not the fossils in the quarry (which is closed for 2010 anyway) but the canyon country — some of the best, most remote canyon country you'll find in this part of the world.

The Endless Crowds of Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, U.S. There is wilderness in Yellowstone, even if it's just inches from the boardwalks that transport thousands around the geothermal pools.

Backpacking in the Grand Tetons

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, U.S. Hiking into the wilderness empties your mind. You fall into the silence of the mountains and you can relax in a way that's very difficult to do in the midst of civilization. The white noise that surrounds us in our everyday lives, that noise we don't even notice as it adds thin layers of stress that build up over days, weeks, years, does not seem capable of following us into the mountains.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado, U.S. Something about the desert inspires me to get up early and watch the sunrise. The cool mornings seem worth getting up for out here in the high plains of Colorado, especially when there's the chance to watch the sunrise from the largest sand dunes in North America, here in Great Sand Dune National Park.

Comanche National Grasslands

Comanche National Grasslands, Colorado, U.S. To say the Comanche National Grasslands is off the grid would be an understatement. With the exception of Highway 50 in Nevada, I've never driven through such isolation and vast openness anywhere in the world. And it's easy to get lost. There are no signs, no road names even, just dirt paths crisscrossing a wide, perfectly flat expanses of grass.

Why National Parks Are Better Than State Parks

Amarillo, Texas, U.S. There are many reasons, but here's the one I currently consider most important: National Parks never close. Take Palo Dura State park outside of Amarillo, Texas. Were it a National Park, I would be there right now. But it's not, it's a state park and so I'm sitting in a hotel room in Amarillo because everyone knows nature closes at 10PM.

The Legend of Billy the Kid

Hico, Texas, U.S. History rarely offers neat, tidy stories. But the messier, more confusing and more controversial the story becomes, the more it works its way into our imaginations. The legend of Billy the Kid is like that of Amelia Earhart or D.B. Cooper — the less we know for sure, the more compelling the story becomes.

The Dixie Drug Store

New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. New Orleans is it's own world. So much so that's it's impossible to put your finger on what it is that makes it different. New Orleans is a place where the line between consensus reality and private dream seems to have never fully developed. And a wonderful world it is.

Begin the Begin

Gulf Port, Mississippi, U.S. It's travel time again. This time I'm driving my 1969 Ford truck out west, to Texas, Colorado, Utah and more — a road trip around the western United States. The first stop is Gulf Port, Mississippi. It's hard to believe, sitting here on the deserted beaches of Gulf Shore, watching the sun break through the ominous clouds, but soon this beauty will be gone. The BP oil spill is somewhere out there, blown slowly ashore by the storm hovering over us, waiting to drown the beaches in crude.

Los Angeles, I’m Yours

Los Angeles, California, U.S. Los Angeles is all about the car. Shiny, air-conditioned comfort, gliding you soundlessly from one place to another without the need to interact with anything in between. But I have discovered that if you abandon the car for the subway and your own two feet, the illusion that L.A. is just a model train set world — tiny, plastic and devoid of any ground beneath the ground — fades and you find yourself, for a time, in a real city.

So Far, I Have Not Found The Science

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia, U.S. A canoe trip through the Okefenokee Swamp down in the southern most corner of Georgia. Paddling the strange reddish and incredibly still waters. Begging alligators, aching muscles and the kindly folks of Stintson's Barbecue all getting their due.

How to Get Off Your Butt and Travel the World

Athens, Georgia, U.S. How do you make the leap from cubicle daydreams to life on to the road? You want to travel the world, but, like me, you have a million excuses stopping you. How do overcome the inertia that keeps you trapped in a life that isn't what you want it to be? Here's a few practical tips and how tos designed to motivate you to get off your butt and travel the world.

No Strangers on a Train

Athens, Georgia, U.S. We mythologize trains because they harken back to an age of community travel, a real, tangible community of travelers, not just backpackers, but people from all walks of life, people traveling near and far together in a shared space that isn't locked down like an airplane and isn't isolated like a car; it's a shared travel experience and there are precious few of those left in our world.

Leonardo Da Vinci and the Codex on Bunnies

Birmingham, Alabama, U.S. A few pages from Leonardo Da Vinci's notebooks make a rare trip outside Italy, to Birmingham, AL, of all places. But the Birmingham Museum of Art is home to far more alarming works of art, works which depict the eventual, inevitable, bunny takeover, after which all the elements of our reality will be replaced by bunnies. Seriously. You heard it here first.

Elkmont and the Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, U.S. Pigeon Forge is Myrtle Beach in the mountains. Redneck weddings cascade straight out of the chapel and into the mini golf reception area. Pigeon Forge is everything that's wrong with America. But we aren't here for Pigeon Forge, it just happens to have a free condo we're staying in. We're here for the mountains. Smoky Mountain National Park is just a few miles up the road.