Ken Hartke

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I'm retired and living solo "out west" in the New Mexico desert. I've been an observer and blogger for years and usually have four or five blogs going but wrote for myself or for friends. A lot of it was travel stories or daily random postings -- but it was good experience. Red Room allowed me to share things on a wider scale and with its demise I (maybe) found a more public voice.

Wanderlust

I don’t travel as much now as I used to. I seem content to go back to places that I’ve visited before rather than to strike out in a new direction. That seemed to be okay for now — as I am almost through my seventh decade — but maybe I need to re-think that just a little.

My mother did not travel much. Living and working in St. Louis, she was far from the wonders of the world. She went with a neighbor family to see Pikes Peak in an shiny new touring car sometime in the 1920s — crossing dusty Kansas on what passed for roads and camping along the way. She and a bunch of girlfriends drove to Biloxi and the Gulf Coast in the 1930s. (Whoa – how daring!) She wasn’t a driver so she rode in the rumble seat and got sunburned.  I only know that because she kept a little travel journal complete with grainy Kodak photographs. We travelled on family vacations beginning in the late 1950s and when she and my dad moved to Virginia in the 1970s they travelled around the east coast. On her first airplane trip, out to California to visit her brother and sister-in-law, she visited an old Spanish mission and pried up an original clay floor tile and brought it home as a souvenir. Maybe it’s good that she didn’t travel to some places. Is that really the Holy Grail in the pantry?

But I get some of my “wanderlust” from her. She was a big fan of Richard Halliburton, an almost unknown name today but at the time, back in the 1930s,  he was almost a rival to Charles Lindbergh. He was a dashing and fearless figure who travelled the world over and published stories and books of his travels. She scraped money together to buy his books and when he came to town she was in the audience. She went to see Lindbergh, too, but she seemed to be more impressed with Halliburton. He was almost a roaming evangelist for travelers: good looking and articulate — and single. He managed to turn travel into a career and made good money at it. His personal life was a little edgy by her standards, had she known, but back in the day much of that was kept private.

As I was recently going through some family books, I came across her old 1937 copy of Halliburton’s Book of Marvels: The Occident, which covers many of his travels and adventures in North and South America and Europe. I remember poring over that book as a kid and wanting to go see all those places that were pictured. Looking through it now, especially the old black and white pictures, I wonder how much things have changed. He was writing before WW-II but made reference to the damage that was done during “the Great War”.  Hitler was in power in 1937 and Halliburton pretty much ignored the existence of the German state except to mention the damage the Germans did in shelling Rheims Cathedral (complete with photographs of the burning church). My dad trudged all over western Europe in WW-II from London to Paris and Berlin with an eventful stopover in Bastogne and was much less impressed with the place.

As I paged through the book this time I see that I’ve managed to visit a number of places he covered in 1937. Some are commonplace today. He goes gaga over the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. Chapters are devoted to Boulder Dam, Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls…people still are impressed with those. New York City gets a chapter with emphasis on the Empire State Building. Washington DC gets a chapter. It turns out I’ve staggered through all the places in the US that he featured in the book with the exception of Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas out in the Gulf west of Key West, Florida. I just never took the boat ride. There are a lot of places in the rest of the book that I haven’t visited. I’ve been to Machu Picchu and his pictures from the 1930s are interesting compared to what it looks like today. I’ve been maybe a couple hours away from some of the places but didn’t get there. I recall reading his account of Vesuvius and Pompeii as a kid and even wrote a report for school based mostly on the book but I never managed to get there — just a few miles down the road from Rome.  There are a few places I’ll not visit — monasteries, mostly, but there are a number that still beckon -- Iguazu Falls and Rio de Janeiro could be one trip. Athens and Istanbul could be another trip.

richard-halliburton-elephantHalliburton was a great self-promoter and he seemed to be awestruck with almost anything he encountered along the way. His prose was gushing in praise for everything and sounds silly today. He found all sorts of people to happily pose in native costumes for his photographs but he seemed to really like being photographed riding elephants. There are a lot of those.

Undaunted by the first hostilities of WW-II, Japan and China were at war, Halliburton had a Chinese Junk, the Sea Dragon, built in Hong Kong in 1939 and planned to sail it across the Pacific to San Francisco. How tough could it be? Halliburton and a crew of six Americans set off in March and ran headlong into a typhoon. The ship was last seen some distance west of Midway Island struggling through the storm. It was never seen again.  Initial reaction was that this was a publicity stunt — Amelia Earhart had gone missing two years earlier so nobody was dumb enough to try this without some back-up plan…right? Eventually the navy went out looking for the Sea Dragon or some evidence of wreckage but nothing was found. Halliburton was declared dead in October, 1939. Germany had invaded Poland the previous month so there was not as much attention paid to his disappearance. My mom was probably heartbroken. Rumors persisted for years that he actually was alive and living like a native in some remote location but none of the crew ever turned up. Eventually, in 1945, some wooden wreckage washed ashore near San Diego that could have been from the Sea Dragon but, after so many years of war in the Pacific, it could have been from almost anything.  I might travel a little more but I won’t be trying that.

     *     *     *

Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
It's great to read you again. I enjoyed your piece. If you enjoy travel writing, may I suggest two books I love: "The Places In B... Read More
Saturday, 04 March 2017 12:38
Rosy Cole
This is fascinating, Ken. Richard Halliburton was only a name to me, so thank you for putting him in context. I followed it up wit... Read More
Saturday, 04 March 2017 13:42
Ken Hartke
Thank you both for stopping by. Writing is therapy these days...it keeps me from yelling at the TV. I think my mom was fascinat... Read More
Saturday, 04 March 2017 17:26
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3 Comments

On the Passing of the Year

On the Passing of the Year

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Auld Lang Syne: We cheerfully sing the phrase
but shiver to recall what went before or
guess what’s yet to come.

Old Long Since — “since what?” we ask. Time only knows.
We bade Godspeed to so many and so much.
Once young and bold but now so far apart.

But, yes, we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne. So may we someday raise
a glass, my friend… and may it be in better times.

But for now, in times like these, we say a prayer…
or a whispered hope… as far and near, to each his own,
we’ll raise a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

                                          *     *     *

***Thanks, always, to Rabbie Burns.

 

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Happy new horizons, Ken!
Monday, 02 January 2017 10:06
Ken Hartke
Blessings for the new year.
Monday, 02 January 2017 17:12
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2 Comments

The Shadowed Wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Shadowed Wall

What lives were once protected
behind these shadowed walls?
What joys were shared and hopes declared
and private pains endured?
What voices spoke to say a prayer or
comfort childhood fears?
What buttons sewed?
What wondrous weavings wove?
What feasts enjoyed?
What cheerful toasts proposed?
What missing friends or long-lost parents mourned?
Like brushstrokes on canvas, these past lives
paint shadowed lines on old
forgotten walls.

 

 

Recent comment in this post
Rosy Cole
In many of your posts, the reader can sense the space and timelessness of New Mexico, a landscape and environment for reflection o... Read More
Wednesday, 21 December 2016 08:22
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1 Comment

One Thousand Desert Winters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The calendar on the wall kept watch alone


for one thousand desert winters


and one thousand desert summers.


Faithfully measuring out the seasons.


The rabbits and rock doves had their own calendars.


The coyotes took note of every moonrise.


Lizards were thankful for the morning sun.


Years passed, stars fell and crickets chirped


but no one watched the calendar.



Someone once kept a holy vigil.


They watched the calendar and the changing seasons.


That was long ago and for reasons we can only guess.


Things change slowly here in the desert. One can lose track.


Was it a secret place? Was it a sacred place?


This space of discourse between sun and stone


was witnessed by a silent scribe.  Watch closely…take note.


Each morning was important – day in, day out.


The morning sun sent its dagger deeper, striking out the


old season and bringing forth the new.

 

 

 

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Love this, Ken! It's limpid as running water, full of imagery and wonder about the universe. Makes me think of the Psalmist: wha... Read More
Thursday, 08 December 2016 18:31
Ken Hartke
I live these wild and deserted places..... The Shadowed Wall What lives were once protected behind these shadowed walls? What ... Read More
Thursday, 08 December 2016 18:49
Rosy Cole
Did you write this? It's a lovely reflection, picturesque and nostalgic.
Thursday, 15 December 2016 11:24
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4 Comments

Latest Comments

Stephen Evans A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
19 February 2018
High praise! Thank you.
Katherine Gregor A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
18 February 2018
Beckett would be envious.
Stephen Evans A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
05 February 2018
I just realized that the last two posts were plays. How true to the spirit of The Green Room!
Rosy Cole A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
04 February 2018
Interesting dynamic. Reflects the popular conception of 'democracy'. (Look at it this way, the US is...
Ken Hartke Flipping the Omelet
01 February 2018
One word: Fritatta

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