Essay from Norman J. Olson

reflections on travel and life in the era of Pandemic

by:  Norman J. Olson

my wife retired from her airline job in 2015 and had worked in the airline and travel industries for many years…  we have travelled extensively with employee pass travel discounts since our adult children were young and have had many amazing travel experiences, from a surly cab driver on Lombok to a view of the Alpine snow peaks through the clouds flying into Zurich… we have crossed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by ship and by air, back and forth over the International Date Line and the Equator…  we have seen the shipping in the Malacca Strait between the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra…  we have sailed into the magnificent harbor of Rio de Janeiro with Sugarloaf looming on one side and the famous Statue of the Redeemer looking down from the pinnacle of mount Corcovado, 2300 feet above the city… we have walked in the water meadows around Kelmscott Manor where Dante Rossetti painted Janey Morris in 1871 and visited the house where James Ensor painted his masterpiece in Ostend, Belgium… we have been to Graceland and walked among the gigantic sequoia trees 6000 feet up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains…  we have seen, heard and smelled much including an erupting volcano on Stromboli and the smell of woodsmoke in rural Mexico… we have made lifelong friends and found lovely, amazing, interesting and beautiful people everywhere… along with a few grumps…  it has been a terrific ride…

now, in the new reality of a worldwide pandemic that as yet, has no cure, vaccine or even treatment, I wonder if travel as we have known it will ever come back…  I have no crystal ball and in the past, efforts by humans to predict the future have not been very successful…  so, who knows…  some say that the cruise industry was in big trouble before the epidemic…  and it certainly was an industry with a history of problems including some questionable environmental impact, and a product that was becoming more and more out of step with the modern world…  people complained about small staterooms, seasickness, and uneven quality and of course, communicable disease was a problem long before ships started arriving with hundreds of passengers ill and some dead from Covid 19… what we enjoyed about cruises was the food, the conviviality with others in our age cohort (baby boomers), the chance to see and be on the ocean, the calm and relaxing atmosphere of watching the waves roll by in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, or the excitement of arriving in a new port…  things that no other form of travel could provide…  I will not argue for or against the cruise industry…  in our history, it was there and gave us a chance to see and experience things we could not experience any other way and we took advantage of travel industry employee discounts which made these cruises, especially the long transoceanic, “repositioning” ones a real bargain for us…  we got to see and experience the oceans and ports of the world… if the cruise industry goes away, we will travel by whatever means are still there, if traveling anywhere ever again, in our lifetime becomes safe…

most of our travel has of course, not been by ship…  we have flown all over the USA and to other continents and have traveled in the USA and elsewhere by car and train…  we have ridden the metro in Singapore, driven from Loch Ness to Bristol (on the WRONG side of the road many years ago when our kids were young) and ridden the bus from Victoria Coach station to Amsterdam Sloterdijk Station…  we have driven from Las Vegas to Riverside, California across the Mojave desert many times and from the granite cliffs of Yosemite to the gnarled Monterey Cypress Trees on the soft beach of Carmel by the Sea in California…

well, whatever the future holds, we hope to make it through the current crises…  we are age 72, so are carefully self isolating and doing everything we can to avoid becoming victims of this disease that has killed so many, and still carry on with our lives…  we have enjoyed being home, walking and bicycling in our area as spring is becoming more summer like every day…  making art, listening to music, watching television in the evenings, tuning into the rhythms of Maplewood, Minnesota, where we live and of the life we have been privileged to enjoy now for 72 years…  typing this now, I am looking out the window where the bushes and trees are only beginning to bud…  it is bright and sunny if still chilly…  I see the intricate shadow of the branches of the spruce and honey locust trees… I see the grass in my front yard becoming green through the mulch of last years leaves and since the new leaves are not out yet on trees and bushes, I can look across McKnight Road and through the network of branches to see the dusty blue, rippled surface of Beaver Lake…  this morning on my walk around Beaver Lake, I saw Canadian Geese, Mallard ducks and migrating wood ducks with their brilliant colors and patterns…  a few days ago, I heard a loon call…  loons stop on their migration sometimes in the summer and fall to spend a day or two on Beaver Lake, before heading north or south depending on the season…

this morning while eating breakfast, I read a bit of a doorstopper biography I have been reading on the life of the late Victorian artist G. F. Watts…  I have visited the house where he spent his final years (near Guildford, England) and find it fascinating to learn how someone who died 45 years before I was born looked at the world, at life and at art…  to think about art…  how Mr. Watts was, and thought of himself as, a truly important and immortal artist but became in the 20th Century, at most a footnote in the history of art…  (even though he is not a great artist, I think he is an interesting one and some of his drawings are really very fine)…

when I finish writing this, I have my drawing board nearby and my fingers are itching to pick up my steel dip pen and see what kind of a drawing develops… 

Mary and I have been married for 50 years…  we have been lucky to have lived such a life with children and grandchildren (video chats are great but we miss the hugs!!!) and so many blessings in every part of our lives…  we have enjoyed each other and our time together…  we are stuck not traveling for now, but that is maybe an opportunity for us to have new domestic experiences and to enjoy the place where we are…  if I have learned nothing else in 72 years, I have learned that I have been very lucky and very blessed in this life…  though I am not a religious person, in this time of crises when so many are experience death, loss and illness, I am truly and forever grateful for what I have been given in this life so far, and that so far, we have been spared…  still, the sadness of so much death and suffering hurts and touches us all… as to the future?  well, I hope we have a future and if we do, I hope for the best for everybody…

Walking by Beaver Lake

By:  Norman J. Olson

walking along McKnight Road,

along Beaver Lake, I can

see trees, grass, weeds…

a world of green that feeds on

sunlight, minerals

and carbon dioxide…  of course,

the axis of this planet is tilting



now…  natural history

has me by the throat

and yellow gold finches

fly from twig to twig…

letter to the future

By:  Norman J. Olson

imagine this planet 2.4 billion

years ago, if time on that

scale has any meaning at all…  was

there a snowball Earth??  a planet covered

with ice and snow…

all the water turned solid

until volcanos finally put enough

carbon dioxide into the air

to warm things up

a bit…  for 3 or 4 hundred million years

snow and ice

covered the planet, according to

scientists, or, maybe not… they cannot agree,

but whatever happened, we have had both


and ice free poles…  and through it all,

tiny bits of life survived (lucky for us, I guess)…

will we be around for the next glaciation?  will

our home again

become snowball Earth…  will humans somehow

survive through the millennia?  well,

the odds are against us…  a meteor or

even a giant volcano could mean the end of us…

not to mention our own

self destructive militarism and idiocy… 

drought, flood and famine are always

just around the corner… our tolerances

of heat and cold 

are small…  for much of our brief tenure on this planet

starvation has been our companion, death and disease,

our daily lot…  will that change in the long term,

or are we in a brief golden age of medical miracles

even the scientists and fortune tellers do not know for sure…

so, my children’s children’s children x 2000…  I hope 

you survive and if you do, good luck with the


2 thoughts on “Essay from Norman J. Olson

  1. It seems to me that maybe you never saw Cuba, and almost nothing of the Old World (at least where your ancestors came from?).
    Those commercial cruises and flights avoid most of the interesting places.

    So you should start now REAL travelling, also to South America, Africa, former communist states, including China, and the Near and Middle East. Without all those Americans and other Westerners around…

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