Monday Musing: Beautiful Landscapes

“Think of a memory in a beautiful landscape—maybe from a family vacation, or your favorite childhood destination. Now think of a scene from a story, novel, or movie that describes a landscape, and that has stuck with you. What makes these moments special? So many of the memories and stories we share are connected to place—to the landscapes of the Earth and the landscapes of our own imaginations.” – “Carving Stories from Trees” in Poets & Writers

Key West when postcards could be mailed for a penny.

Poets & Writers Magazine has a daily online writing prompt or “Craft Capsule.” I enjoy reading these even if I don’t follow up and write something based on the prompt.

For those who grew up in a wonderful place and enjoyed day trips, or went on yearly summer vacations, or traveled after graduating from high school or college, the landscapes we saw in the past are a gold mine of writing prompts and potential short story or novel location settings.

Our family traveled every summer. This meant many long days in a car, most before air conditioning. We saw sites from Fort Ticonderoga and Niagara Falls to Key West, Mammoth Cave and the Smoky Mountains. Even though I didn’t keep a diary, my memories–incomplete as they may be–make a wonderful starting point when I’m thinking up a new story.

Since I’ve been to these places, it’s less difficult to find a book, magazine or a website to help me fill in the details. I came away from those vacations with a strong sense of each place. And, that’s almost more valuable than a guidebook.

Perhaps you have memories of long-ago trips that might serve as writing prompts and short story locales.


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Throwback Thursday: Kim’s Guide to Florida

1950 edition
1950 edition

In 1934, Ethel Byrum Kimball of Anna Maria, Florida wrote the first edition of a soon-to-be-popular publication called Kim’s Guide to Florida. According to a story in The Miami News called Homemaker Writes New Florida Book Guide to State, the guide included “high points of interest, centering about places throughout the state with just enough of comment to stir the imagination or clarify vague knowledge.”

When my family moved from Oregon to Florida in 1950, my father bought a copy of the ninth edition of the guide to help all of us acclimate to the state and plan future vacations that took us from Tallahassee to Pensacola and from Jacksonville to Key West. Based on the guide, we saw attractions that now seem rough and tumble and unsophisticated in their style and presentation compared to the high-style condos and theme parks that would later take over much of the state’s formerly pristine property.

In the introduction to the ninth edition, Kimball wrote, “Ponce de Leon led the way to Florida. During the more than four hundred years since that memorable occasion, Progress has marched valiantly over this ‘Land of Flowers.’ He has left much of the old and added the new, complementing the magnanimous gifts of Nature.”

While I often argue that “progress” went too far in Florida, concealing or destroying many of the ‘gifts of Nature,’ the spirit of the Sunshine State in the 1950s was a heady combination of cattle, orange groves, backwoods and coastal local businesses and tourist attractions. In an article called “The Nation’s Solarium,” the guide said the state was, among other things, “a place for rejuvenating rest to the weary and ill, a place where children grow strong and a nation recreates.”

What to See

Florida was salt war fishing, fresh water fishing, state parks and the Everglades National Park, flowers and plants, forest lands and the “romance of citrus.” Florida was marine shells and subtropical fruists and tourist attractions grouped by city. There were multiple black and white photographs of major points of interest. Ads invited tourists to visit Monkey Jungle, Theater of the Sea, Ravine Gardens, Cypress Gardens, Ste. Anne Shrine, Rainbow Springs and the “Spring of the Mermaids” called Weekiwachee.

We saw the state from Wakulla Springs to Silver Springs and from Castillo de San Marcos to Bok Tower guided by Kim’s Guide to Florida. Many of the older attractions have disappeared over the years, but looking through my 1950s copy of the guide long after the fact, I think that each of our vacations in those days could easily have been filed under the words “it was quite a trip.”