Explorers

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Even before one annual travel issue goes to the printer, we find ourselves thinking about the next. We try for balance—of subject, of location, of era. And yet the issue tends to take on a stubborn shape of its own, as if to say, “Forget about your usual notions of something for everyone; this is what I want to be.” Last year that brought us a collection of articles that a few of you thought was deliberately designed to be politically correct; we had a new look at General Custer, the old Jewish neighborhood of New York’s Lower East Side, and the South’s recent appreciation for African-American history. No P.C. intended; the issue simply went its own obstinate way.

Something similar happened this year. We batted a lot of ideas around, we assigned stories on a range of subjects; some worked out, some didn’t. When it came to assembling a lineup of articles, we once again, and without conscious effort, found a theme of sorts—one that chimes with the past several years’ worth of examination of the Columbus adventure. We start with Henry Wiencek’s lively and often surprising (in its benevolence) take on the hand of Spain on the American land. The Spanish “were the first pupils of the New World, the first to learn the lesson that these continents are the land of dreams,” he writes. “The words más allá (farther on) appear like an incantation in their chronicles. Not here? Very well. Más allá!

Then Michael Durham goes out West, to Utah, to follow the trails of the early Mormon pioneers, to show us how the practical, stubborn character that nourished their vision also made it manifest, and to bring us another version of the landscape of dreams. Less eager adventurers (if no less determined) heading in the opposite direction—American troops assembling in Britain for the D-day landings—also left wall paintings, on barracks and huts that are now crumbling on the sites of former air bases in East Anglia and Bedfordshire. David Higgs, a British photographer, memorializes this humble record of an enormous enterprise.

Those of our readers who prefer to stay closer to home will line up with Thomas Jefferson, whose beloved Monticello is probably the most famous presidential dwelling and whose second, less well-known, property, Poplar Forest, Wayne Fields visits in these pages. It is said that Jefferson yearned to accompany his emissaries to the unknown, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, as they traversed the thousands of miles of wilderness that he had purchased for this nation. But Jefferson revealed the nature of a homebody as he rather crankily wrote to his daughter Martha while visiting New England in 1791: “I find nothing anywhere else in point of climate which Virginia need envy to any part of the world.… When we consider how much climate contributes to the happiness of our condition by the fine sensation it excites, we have reason to value highly the accident of birth in such a one as that of Virginia.” Perhaps that’s not the perfect attitude to carry on an adventure into the unknown, but it was Jefferson, after all, who cut a path for us and bade us follow. As heirs to his defining vision, we are all of us, to a degree, forever explorers.

Carla Davidson