Remember the issue of National Geographic with the stunningly mesmerizing girl on the cover? The one in the brown cloak up around her hair, with shocking green eyes staring, searing a hole in the camera?
Yeah, so do I.
I used to lay on my belly on the floor of my childhood home, chin in hands, in front of the old black wood stove, studying the pages of NG, dreaming not only of being a traveller, but of being the photojournalist capturing the exotic and divine world I was seeing on the pages. I wanted to be where the wild things were, where life was happening in brilliant color and definition.
I don’t know exactly what happened to that dream except that, like the myriad branches of a juniper tree, different paths laid themselves out before me and I walked them, following them to bigger and better branches, which, as it turns out, didn’t include becoming a photojournalist for National Geographic.
As luck and fate would have it, two weeks or so ago I stood on The Great Wall of China.
That’s stood, walked, climbed, explored, photographed, skipped along — THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA, people! This was closing my eyes, making a wish, blowing out the candles …waiting 25 years… and having the wish come true. It was the magic of a hundred bristles of a whitened dandelion blowing on the wind of time – and, oh whatEVER. It was totally wicked awesome.
I remember a spread in NG – one of the ones you had to unfold layer by layer until it covered the whole tv tray. It was a magnificent photograph of The Great Wall, it must have been taken in the 1970’s. The wall wound itself through the mountains of China, poking its square watchtower head up every now and again, a watchful dragon. I remember thinking, if I ever get to that wall, so help me, I will have MADE IT.
To be clear, I had no idea what that meant. Still don’t.
But I’ve been thinking. Maybe that’s how I felt, like I’d really accomplished something, while watching my children bounce along a part of the world I would venture to say the entire populace of the planet knows. Because, you know, it’s so old and big and all.
First, the Hamlin trio peered over the wall toward what used to be Mongolia, from the direction the soldiers came who put an end to the lasting ruling monarch in the country. Then, toward the heart of Beijing, in northern China – a beautiful and welcoming city where we had just spent 4 days. They ran and shouted noisily, posed for pictures, asked lots of questions, floated along, being thoughtful (I would like to think,) touched stones that are over 600 years old (and it’s a new section, by comparison. Some are 2,500 years old,) and were happy.
So let’s recap. My children stood on The Great Wall of China. With me. It’s such an awesome concept I am unsure it really happened. Thank god for the invention of the camera. I bet the millions of people who built that wall would’ve liked a handy Nikon, too, just to prove they’d been there, too.
I don’t know what I would have felt if I’d been standing on the wall alone, like I’d planned decades ago in our cozy red ranch. I just know I’m glad I don’t. As it were, we were able to give our kids an amazing bit of history, placing it in their hands and letting them handle it awhile. That feels like “making it”, I guess.
Then again. We’ve been home for a bit now. Jet lag has slunk away – the old skunk.
We’re putting our house back together, albeit very slowly, as we are spending as much time as we can with friends and family. I know it’s cliche – but life is happening in brilliant color and definition right here on Cedar Street. And it’s been happening all along. I’m not gonna lie, being here, being in a place we call “home,” where people greet us at the door with big smiles and cold beer and a zillion stories to share, feels even more like “making it” than visiting any old wall.
Thanks for your post on The Great Wall. It’s the best yet as it captures what your “adventure of a lifetime” is all about. The pictures are great and the writing superb! Thanks for sharing your gift. Soooooo glad you are all back home to colorful Cedar Street.
Hi, Mrs. Hamlin. Just saying, this is Arin.
When we went to the Great Wall for our China Trip, we couldn’t take awesome pictures like that, because we happened to be hiking in an area that MANY people go to- way more crowded than like, a department store back here in Korea. People were squeezing by each other, and it was HOT HOT HOT. But it seems like your family had a better time that us, so yay 🙂
Vicki Hamlin said:
Hi Arin! So nice to hear from you! Yes, we purposely traveled to this spot, where less tourists visit. It was well worth the car sickness to get there. It may not look like it, but it was unbearably hot on this day, too. It was incredible! Miss you.
Terry Pettengill said:
Vicki – this was fascinating to read. Your mom sent it on to me. You have a talent for weaving the right words into yuor writing. What an amzing adventure, or adventures – you have all had! Terry Pettengill
Vicki Hamlin said:
Thank you, Terry. I appreciate that!
rach :) said:
OMG, I can’t wait to get my hands on you. When? I’ve been patiently waiting for you to settle in. Be warned, though– I just might not let go for awhile 🙂
Vicki Hamlin said:
NG did a follow up on the photo of the green eyed Afghani woman..fascinating to revisit all these years later.
I too am grateful for having had NG as I grew up.
Hello from the pond where your mom and I sit working on our IPADS,
Kara Morris said:
Looks and sounds amazing!! You are such a great writer Vicki…how wonderful you could enjoy with your whole family!!