History lives just down the street and around the corner

Delores E. Topliff – September 27, 2016

I grew up in the town around Fort Vancouver, Washington, the end of the Oregon Trail, and that connection to history had impact. Built in 1825, the fort also has the oldest apple tree in the Pacific Northwest from seeds brought by an English sea captain a year later. Even now when I’m there in season I nibble on that tree’s small green apples to digest more history. Before the fort became a national monument, anyone could roam the place, so at age eleven I explored the original well, so deep it made me dizzy to look into its depths. I crawled the last few feet on my stomach to peer down past the perfectly fitted stones lining its walls to clear water in the bottom. I wanted to drink that water as another link to the past and loved realizing those stones were perfectly fitted by craftsman hands not so very long ago.

This September I attended Voyageur Days at Minnesota’s North West Fur Post built in 1804. Cheerful people in period dress taught life skills, offered authentic trade goods, and played music on instruments true to the time. I saw and heard a nine note range Scottish small pipe played for parlor entertainment by squeezing a small air bag under the arm instead of blowing the fierce warrior blasts that terrified enemies. It was as if I had walked down a street, turned some corner, and found myself living in earlier years. The staff and visitors delightfully spoke of people in conversation that I’m researching for a historic novel as intimately as if they were the new family just moving into the neighborhood.

In the U.S. and Canada., history is alive and well and didn’t actually happen that long ago. My grandchildren like to quiz me on life before T.V., space shots, internet, and other modern inventions, yet don’t realize they’re also missing out on great experiences from earlier days.

History is still being written and we each have a starring role. What favorite historic place do you love to frequent and why? What historic impact do you most want your life to have? I want to write about both past and present in ways that make them live.

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